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Preventable deaths in North Carolina nursing homes troubling when coupled with decreased regulatory activity in the state

Over the last six years, the state has dealt with 67 preventable deaths amongst the elderly population living in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. The causes of these deaths range from medication errors to stabbing deaths and encompass the whole host of typical nursing home accidents including freezing, burning, and elopement incidents.

What is troubling about the number of deaths in North Carolina, which is likely not much higher than other states in the nation, is that a change in state law last year resulted in reduced public access to investigations and information about penalties in these cases.

Under the law, county and state investigators propose fines for violations that include negligence, medication errors and improperly maintained buildings. But these fines are lowered or dismissed in about 38 percent of the cases. The average fine paid in these cases was about $2,615.

On the other hand, changes to state law in 2005 increased some fines to as much as $20,000 and added inspectors for the adult-care industry; each facility will be inspected annually beginning next year. However, legislation during the same session cut the monthly meetings of the Penalty Review Committee to twice a year. Therefore, further compounding the problems is the lack of an active advocacy community in the state.

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