‘Lives are in danger’ as N.C. nursing home inspections lag
WBTV Investigates: State blames staffing shortage for delay in inspections
RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) – The state agency responsible for inspecting nursing homes after complaints about health and safety concerns is lagging behind, it said, due to a staffing shortage.
WBTV began investigating the time it takes for compliance inspections to happen in response to a complaint after getting a call from a man whose mother is at a nursing home in Raleigh.
He grew concerned after complaining about the care his mom was receiving and not getting a response for months.
Charles Keller filed a complaint in October 2022 with the Division of Health Service Regulation, a part of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which regulates nursing homes.
It wasn’t the first time he’d file a complaint. Previously, he said, he’d get a call within weeks from an inspector who said they were conducting a review in response to his complaint.
But not this time.
“I emailed after the holidays in January: ‘what’s the status of this?’ It’s still pending, it’s still pending,” Keller recalled.
“Basically, they told me that they’re short staffed and they don’t have enough surveyors and that they have a backlog of complaints.”
Keller said the director of the office that regulates nursing homes sent him some surprising numbers.
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According to the numbers in the regulator’s email, nursing home complaints for fiscal year 2022 were at a four-year high, while the agency had 23 vacant surveyor positions.
“FYI we still have pending complaints from 2022 that have not been investigated,” the email Keller received said.
Keller said he was stunned.
“It’s just very scary to think that, you know, things are happening in these nursing homes and long-term care facilities and they are going unchecked and unregulated for extended periods of time,” he said.
A spokeswoman for N.C. DHHS said nobody at the agency was available to answer questions for this story but confirmed the staffing situation in a statement.
“The vacancy rate at our Division of Health Service Regulation overall is 16.96%, and its 2022 turnover rate (calendar year) was 32%,” the statement said.
“The recruitment and retention of staff has been challenging due to noncompetitive salaries, required overnight travel, and the significant and stressful workload.”
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While complaints from Keller and other concerned family members continue to go unchecked, Keller teared up thinking of the conditions his mother was forced to live in at her nursing home.
“Being told that you should just go to the bathroom in your diaper, yeah, it’s upsetting. And it’s very disturbing what takes place,” he said. “And people are allowed to just get away with this.”
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