Nursing homes safe despite mass shooting, representatives say
Posted March 30, 2009 6:04 p.m. EDT
Updated March 30, 2009 11:29 p.m. EDT
Carthage, N.C. — Nursing home industry representatives said a gunman's rampage through a Moore County nursing home Sunday, killing eight people, indicates more about his mental state than about the safety of nursing homes.
Robert Kenneth Stewart, 45, is accused of shooting and killing seven patients and a nurse at Pinelake Health and Rehab Center before Carthage police Cpl. Justin Garner, 25, shot him.
"I cannot imagine the terror that the families felt after the event and the horror the patients felt during the event," said Travis Tomlinson, administrator of the Mayview Convalescent Center in Raleigh.
Tomlinson likened the shootings at Pinelake to a natural disaster that nursing home administrators couldn't anticipate.
"It's sort of like a tornado came out of nowhere and hit this particular facility," he said.
Investigators acknowledged that this type of mass shooting can and has happened. On March 10, an Alabama man killed 10 people, including his mother, in that state's worst mass shooting. A day later and an ocean away, a German teen killed 12 people at his former high school.
Craig Souza, president of the North Carolina Health Facilities Association, said that nursing homes are secure but are not immune from "random" violence.
"Sadly, workplace violence can happen anywhere. It is particularly tragic in this case, because it happened in a nursing facility among elderly people who depend on us for their care and safety," Souza said. "We are grateful for the extraordinary efforts of the facility staff and local law enforcement to limit the impact of this tragic incident."
Implementing the level of security that could prevent such a tragedy, Souza said, would change the residential nature of nursing homes that residents and their families desire.
"People live there. It's their home. And families like to treat it that way," he said. "To do anything otherwise would be a disservice to the people they take care of."
Tomlinson said that at Mayview – ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top nursing homes in the country – the comings and goings of staff and families are supervised but not restricted.
"It's not like when you go into the airport, and I don't think it should be," he said.
In the wake of the Carthage tragedy, Tomlinson said, Mayview will review its security measures but make sure the facility's focus stays on care.
"We're just going to take a look at what we do," he said. "My guess is that we're not going to change anything major, because there are things that happen that you just can't plan for."
The N.C. Health Care Facilities Association has created the Carthage Crisis Assistance Fund to help the victims and their families. Checks should be made payable to the "Carthage Crisis Assistance Fund." Donations can be dropped off at any Capital Bank branch or mailed to:
Carthage Crisis Assistance Fund
North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association
5109 Bur Oak Circle
Raleigh, NC 27612