Editorial: Working in nursing homes tougher than ever

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 22, 2020

There are a number of things that can easily be deemed inexcusable about the COVID-19 outbreak at the Citadel, including that, according to family members, the facility did not notify family members with a right to know of their love one’s diagnosis, hospitalization or death.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Salisbury-based law firm Wallace and Graham, there also were allegations about negligence and reckless conduct by Accordius Health, the ownership group of the Citadel.

But as lawsuits seek to hold Accordius Health accountable for its actions, the general public must also offer support to the workers who continue to toil away inside the facility.

Tonight, a single health care employee in the facility will tend to dozens of patients. That employee, like many others at nursing homes across the country, will have a brief break — long enough to take a breath and, perhaps, cry — and then return to work to finish out his or her shift.

Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospices and other long-term care facilities have never been easy places to work, and now the nurses, certified nursing assistants and other workers are trying to keep a global pandemic at bay as it spreads in their workplaces faster than anywhere else. More than a quarter of counties in North Carolina have a nursing home outbreak and seven are the site of two or more such outbreaks, including Rowan. On Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said the COVID-19 outbreak had produced 213 deaths since it arrived in the state. Roughly a third of those deaths are in nursing homes.

Working in the facilities was already backbreaking work, and now it has become more challenging because age and underlying health conditions are risk factors for more severe cases of the virus and its associated disease, COVID-19.

For places like the Citadel, which has a history of problems under prior ownership, it may be particularly tough to change a workplace’s culture as COVID-19 sets in. State inspection reports, as reporter Natalie Anderson found in a story published today, show those problems at the facility pre-date current ownership. In one case, a female resident fell at 1 a.m., fractured her ankle, complained of pain being at a level 10 out of 10, was not given pain medication until 6:30 a.m. and waited until 9:30 a.m. until being transported to the hospital for further care.

The state’s Nursing Home Licensure and Certification Section shows complaints at nursing homes across the county and the state, but complaints for what’s now known as the Citadel are more plentiful than most.

It has been wonderful and uplifting to see acts of love directed toward the employees of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center by churches and community groups. That generosity is still needed. But Salisbury and Rowan County must also remember that health care workers in congregate living facilities like nursing homes are doing emotionally and physically draining work, too. They deserve our gratitude just as much as our hospital heroes.