CHARLOTTE – As Mecklenburg County leaders discussed lifting COVID-19 restrictions in favor of the state’s stay-at-home order on April 28, Commissioner Susan Harden described the escalating cases at long-term care facilities as a crisis.
Harden told fellow commissioners that she understood the county doesn’t regulate long-term care facilities, but she said her south Charlotte district has the most of any area of the county.
“We know these places are the epicenter for poor health outcomes for our community,” Harden said. She reasoned that more focus should be placed on the health outcomes of older adults in long-term care facilities if the state was to advance to Phase 1 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to reopen North Carolina. “The governor’s plan at every level says that nursing homes and long-term care facilities will be locked down,” Harden said. “I’m sorry but that is no life for seniors. We owe it to our seniors to figure out what are better ways of living for them as we live through COVID-19.”
Since that meeting, Harden launched an exploratory committee geared toward finding innovative ideas and best practices, as well as influencing policy decisions at the local, state and federal levels, when it comes to protecting older adults.
The group met for the first time on May 4, the same day Cooper signed a pair of COVID-19 relief bills into law. He was joined by Republican and Democratic leaders in the N.C. General Assembly at a press conference.
One reporter asked if there was legislation to ensure employees at long-term care facilities stay home if they are sick.
“We know there is a much greater likelihood of transferring this virus in our congregate care facilities,” Cooper replied. “That is why we have put an emphasis on those with restricting visitors who can come, with increased sanitizing, with increased social distancing and with increased testing.”
Cooper said knowing who is sick allows facilities to separate patients from the rest of the community. He said all employees have been encouraged to stay home when sick and employers to allow that to happen.
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said one of the questions that will have to be addressed is when you have long-term care facility workers making minimum wage choosing between going to work with a fever and not getting a paycheck. The possibility exists that employees could take medicine to bypass fever screens.
“We need to do something on the state level,” Jackson said. “We need to encourage our employers to make sure their employees know that if they’re not feeling well, they can stay home and that they will still be compensated so they’re not having to make that difficult choice.”
Mecklenburg County released data showing that 9.2% of its 2,106 cases and 49.2% of its 63 deaths through May 10 were connected to long-term care facilities.
The county also reported 12 congregate living settings had active COVID-19 outbreaks, which are defined by the state as having at least two cases. Outbreaks were located in Matthews (Carrington Place Rehab & Living Center), Mint Hill (Mint Hill Senior Living and Shelburne Place), Pineville (The Laurels) and south Charlotte (Charlotte Square, Pavillion Health Center and The Social at Cotswold).