Chapel Hill, N.C. — The staff of the Alzheimer's unit in a Chapel Hill nursing home was put on paid leave Wednesday following positive drug tests by several patients and the death of one, officials said.
Six Alzheimer's patients at Britthaven of Chapel Hill, at 1716 Legion Road, have been hospitalized since the weekend, including 84-year-old Rachel Holliday, who died Tuesday, officials said.
Phillip Hill, vice president of operations for Kinston-based Britthaven, which operates nursing homes in North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia, met for two hours Wednesday with Chapel Hill police to discuss the situation.
Hill said managers are doing everything they can to ensure patient safety, noting Britthaven called for the meeting with authorities. Managers also placed the Alzheimer's unit under 24-hour supervision, he said.
Holliday and two other Alzheimer's patients were taken to UNC Hospitals on Sunday after nursing home managers said they were acting unusual. Hospital officials then contacted police, regulators with the state Department of Health and Human Services and Britthaven managers to express concerns about the patients' situation.
A Chapel Hill police report states the concerns revolved around possible over-medication of the patients.
Britthaven officials then tested all patients in the Alzheimer's unit for drugs, and officials said six more tested positive for opiates. Three of them were hospitalized as a precaution, officials said.
Testing positive for opiates is not unusual in Alzheimer's patients. Opiates are used for pain management, and some medications produce positive results.
Holliday's family said physicians at UNC Hospitals told them that she died of complications from pneumonia.
None of the other five hospitalized patients had returned to Britthaven as of Wednesday evening.
On Wednesday, the nursing home tested all staff members of the Alzheimer's unit for drugs and sent home, officials said. Other staff took over management of the unit.
DHHS spokesman Jim Jones said inspectors with the Division of Health Service Regulation’s Nursing Home Licensure Section haven't yet visited Britthaven. The inspectors usually don't announce such visits in advance, he said.
Capt. Bob Overton said Chapel Hill police haven't launched a criminal investigation. Police are waiting to see how state regulators handle the situation, he said.
A complaint survey reported early this month showed that Britthaven of Chapel Hill is on a national nursing home watch list. According to the report, an inspection last year found at least one area that "caused actual harm to a patient and or subjected patients to immediate jeopardy."