CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Camille Hartnett has kept to the same routine every week for about a year, which is visiting her dad at Huntersville Oaks.
“We chose that location because it was important to us that we were able to visit him on a regular basis,” Hartnett says.
It makes it easy to get to know the staff, and makes the location feel more like a family than a nursing home.
“We have certainly had some very caring and very hardworking CNAs and nurses, doctors,” Hartnett says. “So, overall I would say that he has received good care.”
But the visits came to a screeching halt in early March. Once the fear of COVID-19 seeped in.
“I did appreciate that from a standpoint of protecting the resident’s health,” Hartnett explains. “But I also realized that my No. 1 tool for advocacy was going away. And that created more concern for me in terms of how I was going to keep up with the care that my father was receiving.”
A concern, Hartnett says, has only gotten worse as the weeks have gone on.
“What has been the most troubling is we have had very poor transparency, which seems to be coming from corporate policies within Atrium,” Hartnett says. “And we have not been able to get answers that we feel are necessary to let us know that he’s being protected.”
After hearing news outlets say her father’s nursing home would become an overflow facility for COVID-19 patients needing nursing home care, Hartnett says she immediately questioned his safety.
“When I ask questions about whether or not the positive tested COVID-19 patients would be isolated away from the other patients, I was told that they could not confirm or deny that,” Hartnet says. “That is a blanket answer that sounds like it’s coming from the top down. That provides no security for me at all to know what they are planning to do.”
Which is why she turned to community advocacy groups, like Careweavers in Charlotte, to figure out what her options were.
“It’s a time when family members are questioning whether or not it’s right to keep their loved ones in a care community,” Founder Cindy Hostetler says. “And without the full knowledge about what’s happening inside that care community, family members are making decisions without the full information.”
Hostetler works with residents in nursing homes around the county to get answers on their care.
“We don’t want to create panic, we don’t want to create this sense that everyone needs to move their loved one out of the community,” Hostetler says. “So that’s why it is so important now to be transparent and to share what’s really happening.”
And while Atrium Health, the parent company of Huntersville Oaks, did send out a statement explaining the steps they are taking to protect residents, Hartnett says it still has not answered how her father will personally be protected from the virus at this time.
“The email that was sent to the family members was not sent to all of the family members,” Hartnett says. “And we did not receive that email. And I had to contact them to ask them to send it to me. And that email is not giving us any more information than what we’re hearing in the news. So again, they’re being reactive rather than proactive and that does not give us confidence in their desire to take care of our loved ones as their No. 1 priority.”
We reached out to Atrium Health for a statement regarding its response. It told us in part, “We recognize that our nursing facility patients are among our most fragile and we are making every effort to look out for them as we would members of our own family. We are following the guidance of the CDC, WHO and other health experts and doing everything we know to keep them safe and healthy.”