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Nursing home faces legal battle
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ARCHDALE — As a frontline health care worker, 29-year-old Tara Pendergrass repeatedly sacrificed her personal safety for the benefit of others during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an attorney representing her next of kin.

A certified nursing assistant at GrayBrier Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Randolph County, Pendergrass was asked to work a 12-hour shift after testing positive for COVID-19, said Todd King, a Charlotte-based attorney with Lanier Law Group.

Nine days later — on Dec. 8, 2020 — she died from COVID-19-related complications, he said.

Since then, King has uncovered what he terms a pattern of failures by the facility to protect its residents and staff from the virus in the period leading up to Pendergrass’ death.

In addition, GrayBrier has denied the workers’ compensation claim asserted by her mother arising out of Pendergrass’ death.

“Her mom is devastated,” King said. “She does feel like GrayBrier engaged in some gross negligence, if not outright wrongdoing.”

Justin Percival, administrator for Graybrier, did not return a call for comment.

Pendergrass, of Sophia, worked for the nursing home for nearly six years.

GrayBrier, like many other congregate care facilities during the pandemic, had multiple outbreaks of COVID-19, reporting a total of 152 positive tests among its residents and staff, including 17 resident deaths and two staff member deaths, according to a January report from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS regulators in December 2020 flagged several “deficiencies” at GrayBrier, including multiple COVID-19-positive residents sharing rooms with residents who did not have the virus, lack of proper personal protective equipment use by staff and the inability to deep clean rooms due to staffing shortages.

Positive cases surged in the weeks leading up to Pendergrass’ death — from three on Nov. 19 to 95 by Nov. 28, King said.

“GrayBrier routinely requested that employees continue working after testing positive for COVID-19,” he said. “Industry protocols dictate that COVID-19 positive staff may continue working, but only with COVID-19 positive patients. GrayBrier failed to properly segregate COVID-19 positive patients and permitted positive staff to continue working with non COVID-19 patients.”

GrayBrier in February denied the workers’ compensation claim, arguing that it was not responsible for Pendergrass contracting COVID-19 in its facility.

Generally, these types of claims have to be tied to an accidental workplace injury. King said he’s making the case for Pendergrass’ claim based on a provision in the law that she was at an increased risk of being exposed to a certain illness, in this case COVID-19.

“A lot of workers’ comp carriers throughout the state are accepting COVID-related death claims where a person worked in really close proximity with COVID-positive patients,” he said. “So I was kind of surprised to get the denial.”

King said he’s appealing the denial to the N.C. Industrial Commission, a process that could take more than a year. If successful, he said Pendergrass’ survivors would be entitled to about two-thirds of her weekly wage for about 500 weeks.

“We’re not talking millions of dollars. If you’re a CNA, this is not a large sum,” he said. “She and her mother were basically best friends. This was a really lively person. This wasn’t someone who had a lot of enemies. She was popular with her coworkers. She was well liked in her community.”

pkimbrough@hpenews.com | 336-888-3531

Above: Margaree Wardlaw, a cafeteria school nutritionist with Union Hill Elementary, prepares mashed potatoes at the school cafeteria. Guilford County Schools launched its annual summer meals program Tuesday. In addition to Union Hill, other High Point-area meal sites include Florence, Oak Hill, Jamestown and Parkview elementary schools. Meals are available Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon. An extra meal is included on Thursdays to accommodate Fridays. Left: Beatrice McEachin, left, and Oun Rattana, cafeteria staff with Union Hill Elementary, prepare to distribute meals outside the school.

Summer meal program begins

DMV says waits may get worse
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RALEIGH — Summer is usually the busiest time of year for the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, and that may be especially true this year as the COVID-19 pandemic eases.

The DMV expects demand at its driver’s license offices will surge this summer, as students hoping to get licenses before school are joined by people who have put off getting or renewing licenses because of the pandemic.

“Many people waited to schedule in-person services until it was safer to do so, which could lead to a summer with our highest-ever level of demand,” DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup said in a written statement.

That demand comes as DMV remains short-staffed, with a vacancy rate across the agency of 17%.

Jessup urged people to do their business online or, if possible, wait until after Labor Day, when demand traditionally cools off.

Before the pandemic, long lines at DMV offices were common in the summer, particularly in urban areas such as the Triangle. Some of that demand was caused by people seeking a license that qualifies as a REAL ID, a form of identification that will help people gain access to domestic flights instead of a passport.

But this spring, the federal government put off new ID requirements that include REAL ID until May 2023, which should reduce demand for them now.

At the same time, DMV still requires people to make an appointment at most driver’s license offices in the state, a measure put in place to prevent crowding during the pandemic. That should keep people from simply showing up and forming a line.

Instead, the challenge to get in to the DMV shifts online or to the phone. DMV makes appointments for its driver’s license offices up to 45 days in advance. Spokesman Steve Abbott said new appointments become available most Thursday through Monday mornings, including over the weekend, at www.ncdot.gov/dmv/offic es-services/online/ or by calling 919-715-7000.

“Online is by far the faster way to do it,” Abbott said, though there’s a $3 fee. “If you go through by phone, those folks are going into the same system, so you can cut out that extra step.”

Eight DMV offices have begun accepting walk-ins from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, including the Greensboro East office at 2527 E. Market St. and the Winston-Salem South office at 2001 Silas Creek Parkway.

“You likely want to be there early, as often lines will form,” Abbott said.

As the coronavirus spread in North Carolina in March 2020, the DMV closed more than half of its offices, but nearly all of DMV driver’s license offices have reopened. To find one, go to www.ncdot.gov/dmv/offic es-services/locate-dmv-office/.

Woman dies from injuries in wreck
  • Updated

HIGH POINT — A young woman was killed and a young man and a boy were injured in a single-car wreck along an east High Point street late Monday.

Jasmine Monique Dunbar, 25, died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem on Tuesday.

Dunbar was the front-seat passenger in a 2008 Hyundai Elantra that ran off the left side of Russell Avenue near the intersection with Hines Street about 11:30 p.m., struck an embankment and a tree, and overturned onto its roof, according to the High Point Police Department. Dunbar was thrown from the vehicle.

The driver, Ronnie Lee Ellerbe Jr., 21, was also transported to Wake. Police said Tuesday that he was seriously injured.

A 14-year-old-boy from High Point in the back seat of the car was taken to Cone Health Med Center in north High Point for treatment. His injuries aren’t believed to be life-threatening, according to police. The teenager’s name wasn’t released because of his age.

Lt. Matt Truitt told The High Point Enterprise that the initial investigation showed no evidence of impairment by the driver, but speeding may have been a factor.

“The traffic investigator stated he feels certain that none of the occupants were wearing seat belts,” Truitt said.

Any criminal charges will be determined at the conclusion of the investigation. Police said that anyone with information about the wreck can contact Crime Stoppers of High Point at 336-889-4000.

pjohnson@hpenews.com | 336-888-3528 | @HPEpaul

Large amount of liquid meth seized
  • Updated

THOMASVILLE — The Special Operations Unit of the Thomasville Police Department has charged two people in connection to a seizure of more than 32 pounds of liquid methamphetamine.

A joint investigation with U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the United States Postal Service resulted in searches on June 2 at 911 Mendenhall St. and 3 Skye Trail. Detectives seized 14.7 kilos of liquid meth, which has a street value of about $550,000, as well as $21,740 in U.S. currency, a 2008 Mercedes Benz, and a 2012 Dodge Charger, the Thomasville Police Department said.

Oscar Gutierrez Uribe, 42, of 911 Mendenhall St. was charged with trafficking methamphetamine. He was placed in the Davidson County Jail, and his bond was set at $500,000 secured.

Yesenia Marisol Vasquez, 48, of 3 Skye Trail was charged with conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine. She was placed in the Davidson County Jail, and her bond was set at $250,000 secured.

No other information about the investigation was released, including how long the investigation had been going and what the two are thought to have been sending or receiving in the mail.

According to information on a University of Arizona website about illicit drugs, methamphetamine is often dissolved in water for the purposes of transportation and placed in containers such as liquor bottles that would be considered common at U.S. ports of entry or any other points of inspection. Once shipped to its destination, the water usually is boiled away, leaving the drug in solid form.