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Virus outbreak closes nursing homes to families, inspectors

More than 100,000 North Carolinians live in long-term care facilities that are now under an indefinite lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. Patient advocates say steps to protect vulnerable patients are needed, but could lead to less oversight of facilities.

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Sloane Heffernan
, WRAL Reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 100,000 people in North Carolina live in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. Right now, they're under an indefinite lockdown to protect vulnerable residents from the coronavirus outbreak.

Governor Roy Cooper hasn't yet said when they’ll be able to open their doors again. That raises many concerns among residents and their families, but it's also a concern for certified patient advocates.

The lockdown means state inspectors aren't able to conduct regular facility inspections, which could lead to a lower quality of care. Inspectors are only allowed in if there is an emergency.

Board certified patient advocate Nancy Ruffner says the lack of oversight is especially concerning at nursing homes with prior records.

"Many of the facilities that we are seeing that are hotspots and have severe outbreaks were facilities that had problems before COVID," Ruffler said.

The most common problems they've faced have been staffing shortages and lapses in infection control procedures. Ruffner says the pandemic is likely making those problems worse.

“If they're already short-staffed, and stressed and pushed to the max, how competent is the care going to be?" Ruffner says. "Everybody is affected by this, whether they are staff, patient owner or relative - everybody is affected and full of fear.”

If you have a loved one in a facility and you are struggling to get updates, Ruffler says the best advice is to ask the facility how they would like to share information so not to disrupt the operation.


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