Site visits fall short of goals

Published 10:33 am Thursday, February 6, 2014

WINTON – Additional information has been shared one month after the Hertford County Board of Commissioners learned of issues with the Nursing Home/Adult Care Community Advisory Committee, a volunteer group appointed by the commissioners.

It was at their January meeting where the commissioners heard that of the 11 family care homes, three adult care homes and the single nursing home located within the county, not all were served by the committee for various reasons; among them, member health issues and scheduling conflicts.

That prompted concern by the commissioners over the proper care of the individuals residing at those facilities.

At their meeting on Monday, the commissioners were presented new data complied by County Manager Loria Williams. That data (compiled between December of 2012 and December of 2013) included participation by the eight members of the Advisory Committee at their scheduled meetings as well as documentation of their visits to the family care homes, adult care homes and the nursing home in the county. The data also shed light on the number of training hours performed by the committee members.

“I spoke with Ann Eubanks, the prior ombudsman (overseeing programs in several counties) and Tamika Rigsbee; they provided the information that allowed me to compile this information,” Williams said.

The documentation showed that a trio of committee members – Jeri Pierce, Barbara Lies, and Winfred Hardy – attended three of the last four quarterly meetings. Westelle Cherry, Sandra Stephenson, Yvonne Brown, and Mana Burke were present at two of the last four meetings, and Orlando Reed attended one meeting.

Of the site visits, Pierce, Reed, Cherry, Lies, Hardy, Brown and Burke performed two during the past year. Stephenson did not perform a site visit during 2013.

Williams noted that the family care homes in the county are required to be visited once a year. Advisory Committee members visited eight during 2013. One other visit was attempted.

The nursing home/adult care homes require quarterly visits. However, only one (Pinewood Manor) received a visit during 2013, according to the data complied by Williams.

The County Manager also mentioned a North Carolina General State Statute {131D-31 (g)} which states that no individual with an immediate family member living at a home served by the Advisory Committee can serve on that committee.

“It appears that we have one member, maybe two, and I have yet to verify this information, that are serving on the committee and should not be serving according to the state statute,” Williams noted.

“It has been brought to my attention that the committee has conducted a recent meeting and have selected a chairperson,” Williams reported. “They appear to be moving forward.”

The commissioners then shared their thoughts on the data presented.

“From what I understand, it takes two (Advisory Committee) members to visit the facilities; is that the reason why they’re not visiting these facilities as required…..because it’s hard to get two to go at one time,” Commissioner Howard Hunter III inquired.

Reed, who was seated in the audience at Monday’s meeting, answered.

“Not necessarily….I work with Yvonne Brown and we were sort of negligent a little bit last year because I had a job and we didn’t get out (to the site visits),” Reed remarked. “We’ve had a couple of members who’ve been sick. We’re going to do better.”

Reed also shared that during the committee’s meeting last month, it was brought to their attention that one member was not in compliance with the state statute.

“Looking at the information provided today, it does not address the issues and concerns (of the residents of the homes),” stressed Commissioner Ronald Gatling. “The whole basis of this is the issues and concerns that are occurring at the homes.

“No matter how often this committee meets or how many hours they train, my question is how are the concerns of those residents being addressed,” Gatling continued. “There are accusations of noises at facilities during evening hours, cold food, cluttered hallways, and unlocked or unattended medication carts. These are the real issues we need to be addressing, not the meeting attendance or training hours of the committee members.”

“Before you can address those concerns, you have to go (visit the facilities),” stated Commission Chairman Bill Mitchell. “My question is who polices the Advisory Committee? If they do visit these sites and discover issues/concerns, who do they report them to?”

Williams said the Advisory Committee submits their reports, to include violations and/or resident concerns, to the Department of Social Services as well as the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The issue here is the failure to visit the homes,” Williams said. “Let’s separate the quarterly meetings where they discuss what they’ve done from the scheduled site visits. They created the process of how they are going to get around to visiting these homes. When I looked at their (meeting) minutes, it appeared to me they wanted to review and revisit the process they were using, but they never did. That was stated in the minutes of three consecutive meetings.”

Williams said the county was appreciative of those who gave freely of their time, without compensation, to volunteer to serve on the Advisory Committee.

“It’s up to us (HertfordCounty local government) to figure out what’s going on,” Williams said. “We have the oversight of board appointments and board attendance. This needs our attention, our direction.”

Williams suggested that the commissioners need to look at some sort of compensation for this particular appointed committee, and perhaps others like them, if only to pay their mileage to perform the site visits.

“The state statute does allow us to reimburse them for expenses,” Williams stated. “That’s something we need to look at and possibly provide.”

The County Manager also noted that the Advisory Committee currently has only eight members. She said that number can be as high as 24.

“We could first try 12 members; that gives us more people to get around to making these required site visits,” Williams said. “My first recommendation is to send out letters to the eight current Advisory Committee members to see if they’re still willing to serve. Then we can look at reimbursing them for their expenses.”

Williams added that the commissioners need to address committee members found serving in violation of state statutes.

“My recommendation in those cases is to write a letter to that individual, thanking them for their service; however, due to that service being in violation of state law, they can no longer serve,” Williams suggested.

She said the county leaders also need to remain vigilant in their oversight of all individuals who serve on any of the county’s committees/boards.

“Not just this Advisory Committee, but all boards need to report to us in some form or fashion as to their annual participation and who’s doing what and why,” Williams stressed. “We also need to imply what established county policy applies as far as tenure on these boards is concerned.”

As far as attendance at the meetings of the various appointed boards, Williams said those entities need “to police themselves.”

“Those boards have bylaws concerning attendance at their meetings,” she stated. “The issue with this particular Advisory Committee served as a wake-up call for all boards and committees that are appointed by you, the commissioners.

“In the meantime, there remains an issue with this Advisory Committee as to following the required annual visits to the family care and nursing homes here in our county,” Williams added. “I can’t drag my feet on this; I will send out the letters to those board members and follow up with phone calls. Then we will see where we stand with the number of committee members who are either willing or eligible to make these visits.”

“We do appreciate the willingness to serve by these Advisory Committee members,” said Mitchell. “Please know that the commissioners have an obligation to the citizens of Hertford County to see that these homes are looked at so that proper care can be given to those who reside there.”

The Advisory Committee’s next meeting is at 12 noon on March 10 at the Ahoskie House. Reed invited the commissioners and/or Williams to attend.

“I will be glad to meet with that committee and let them tell me of their concerns,” Williams concluded.

These types of committees are located in all 100 counties and authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly. Their work is to maintain the intent of the Adult Care Resident’s Bill of Rights within licensed adult care facilities in the state.

The state has an ombudsman program that consists of individuals at the state and local levels work with facility residents, family members, concerned citizens, the facilities, as well as public and private agencies to enhance the quality of care and of life for residents in long term care facilities. The State Ombudsman is located within the North Carolina Division of Aging in Raleigh.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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