End Immunity for Neglect-Induced Deaths in NC Care Facilities
End Immunity for Neglect-Induced Deaths in NC Care Facilities
My name is Lauren, my sister Kristin and I lost our dad in May 2021. He did not die of COVID. He did not die of natural causes. He died because he was neglected by the nursing home that our family trusted with his care. And here’s the worst part:
There’s almost nothing we can do about it. Here’s why.
North Carolina Passed a Copy of a Flawed New York COVID-19 Emergency Law
When the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act in the face of the COVID pandemic, they did so unanimously. As part of that bill, health care providers, including nursing homes, were given significant immunities.
Immunity was intended to help those at the forefront of fighting the disease under extraordinary circumstances. An ER doctor with one respirator and two patients who would die without it, for example, would not face litigation for making that life or death decision.
However, the law goes much further, to the point of giving blanket immunity in cases where COVID is not a factor. As a result, a nursing home can neglect or cause death and not be held accountable under the current immunity law.
North Carolina’s law is a copy-paste of New York’s law. New York has since repealed their law and added more safeguards against nursing home industry influence. Why? Nursing homes abused it.
“During the early months of the pandemic, the Legislature granted healthcare facilities broad corporate immunity, stripping grieving families of their right to seek proper legal recourse and potentially incentivizing nursing home executives to cut corners. Now knowing that we would lose over 13,000 nursing home residents to COVID-19, we have a duty to right this wrong and fully repeal the remaining protections.” -New York Senator Alessandra Biaggi
New York repealed its law on March 24, 2021. If you’re reading this, North Carolina’s more than 36,000 nursing home residents are at the mercy of a system that is immune from wrongdoing. It’s too late for our father but it’s not too late for your parents, grandparents, and elderly loved ones.
We need your help to get this abominable law repealed. We want to make sure this madness, neglect, and abuse ends by removing blanket immunity that shields wrongdoers.
The Story of Our Father, Rick Goforth – Sedated and Neglected in a Corner
Though our father’s case has not made national news, we believe his life was cut short by neglect. He was able to care for himself a great deal, and able to walk and exercise before being admitted to the nursing home.
After he wandered from home we decided to place him in a memory care facility for the specialized care they offer. Had we known about North Carolina’s law, and how it allows nursing homes to act without restraint under this flawed law, we probably would have chosen differently.
Within days of being at the facility, he’d fallen ten times and broken his wrist. Our father wasn’t prone to falls. We were then told he was wheelchair bound. How is this possible within only days?
It is our belief that, like so many in nursing homes across the country, he was being sedated rather than supervised. This was an issue long before the pandemic started as evidenced here. Rather than train and supervise the staff, corporate owners simply allow residents to be pumped full of drugs to keep them stationary and quiet. It is a choice of cruel convenience when compassion is their duty.
We arrived at the facility only to find our father in a wheelchair, pushed against the wall and a table placed in front of him to keep him from falling. He was non-responsive. We immediately called 911. The following are observations from a 102-page NC state investigation:
-When our father was in the emergency department (ED) he looked weak and frail.
-He did not respond when spoken to.
-His diagnoses were failure to thrive, severe dehydration (primary), acute renal failure (primary), anorexia, hypernatremia (low sodium level) and severe protein-calorie malnutrition.
-The ED physician said our father’s acute renal failure "most likely was due to dehydration."
-The ED physician said our father’s hypernatremia was severe secondary to poor oral intake and dehydration.
-The ED physician said our father had severe weakness and encephalopathy due to deficits in nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes.
-Our father was referred to hospice for end of life care.
Our father was feeding himself before he went into that nursing home. Walking. Active. Alive.
Note that nothing we’ve said has anything to do with COVID-19. Our father was not diagnosed with COVID-19. He did not suffer from it. It did not cause his death.
If this were happening in day care centers instead of nursing homes, the outrage would be monumental. Does our elderly community not deserve the care and respect that all other citizens receive?
Elderly People Are Dying Horrifically, and the Law Is Protecting the Wrongdoers, not the Victims. This all sounds too horrible to be true, but it is. And, in effect, nursing homes are not denying it. In many cases brought against them for these deaths, they are not pleading innocence or even addressing the individual case. They’re pleading immunity under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.133.
According to one judge, the law provides blanket immunity. Nursing homes in general, therefore, need not even try to care for residents. And some are not.
Right now, the fight for justice is over before it starts because the law, as written, is not concerned with the facts of cases like these. If you believe these are isolated cases, think again. Here are some local and national stories:
The Long-Term Care Industry’s Powerful Allies Are Keeping the Law in Place, So We Need Your Help
As much as it may seem like common sense that this law is entirely indefensible from the perspective of a resident or family member, there is precious little momentum to change it. In fact, healthcare industry advocates fought very hard to keep this immunity in place.
Whenever an entire industry takes part in a case directed at a member, you can bet there’s more at stake than anything in that proceeding. If you read the stories linked above, you’ll know a Durham Superior Court Judge dismissed the case brought for the death of Ms. Howze. The nursing home’s defense?
There wasn’t one. They did not deny wrongdoing. The simply pleaded immunity.
Deaths like those in the news and our father’s are happening right now across North Carolina. They’ll continue to happen unless we cry out as one voice that this is not acceptable. That we care what happens to our grandparents, parents, and the elderly. That we will not let an industry’s greed and a legislature’s inaction win out over justice.
Please Sign Our Petition, Contact Your Legislator, and Write to Governor Cooper
Nothing we can do will bring our father back or erase this awful chapter of our lives. We do not want anyone else to experience what we have. If you do nothing else, please sign the petition.
If you are as outraged as we are, you can go a step further and contact your North Carolina representative and senator, and Governor Roy Cooper.