Nursing home complaints, staffing issues prompt CBS 17 investigation


FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina families have demanded more regulation by state agencies after filing complaints on local nursing homes. New data from The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) ranked North Carolina the 33rd worst state when it comes to the number of complaints at nursing homes. 

Fayetteville native Margie Whitehead said her family filed complaints on a Fayetteville nursing home in the past. After suffering a stroke in 2009, her brother Purdie Whitehead was admitted into Whispering Pines Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Fayetteville. She said at the time he couldn’t talk and could barely move. 

While there for nearly 4 years, she claimed her family made alarming discoveries as his condition worsened.

“This can’t go on. It just can’t, “said Margie Whitehead. “I would find him wet, find him scratched up or find him scarred up. I would find him laying as I left him. Because I always would date and time his diapers when I put them on at night.” Whitehead took photos of her brother’s body when she was unsure of how he was cared for at the facility. CBS 17 blurred some the photos because of their graphic nature. The pictures showed sores, bruises, and scratches on his face, back, and abdomen. 

After taking her complaints to the nursing home staff, she contacted The NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The agency is over is N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation (DHSR). DHSR is the state department that specifically oversees nursing homes complaints.

“When I called the state department, they told me they had to actually see the event taken place. Although I had pictures and showed them pictures, they told me they had to actually see it for themselves. They had to actually be present when things happened,” said Whitehead.  She eventually moved her brother to a new nursing home months before he died in 2012. CBS 17 contacted DHHS on the complaints.

A spokesperson claimed they could not comment on any specifics in his case because of confidentiality. 

But Whitehead decided to speak out about her brother, after our story on another family at Whispering Pines. In April 2019, Tracey Ervin contacted CBS 17 after documenting her mother’s living conditions at the Whispering Pines. She recorded cell phone video from inside of the facility.  “This is the fourth day in a row that I’ve been coming in here and finding findings,” Ervin told the staff. “You can already see right, urine!” 

“I’m angry. I’m frustrated….all the above and then more,” she explained to CBS 17. 

These families’ complaints were made a decade apart, but their concerns are similar. Both women want more regulation by the state when it comes to investigating complaints at nursing homes and additional training for nursing home staff. 

CBS 17 reached out to Bob Gilliam the president at Century Care Management about the complaints involving Whispering Pines. He did not want to talk on camera. But he told CBS 17 that skilled professionals at the facility are providing the best health care possible for residents. Gilliam also stated that it’s not uncommon for them to receive complaints.  

When asked if Whispering Pines was under-staffed, he admitted that staffing is a challenge. He said his company worked very hard every day to secure staff and they also pay overtime to cover shifts. A search online at rates Whispering Pines Nursing & Rehabilitation Center 4 out 5 stars overall. But only 2 out 5 stars – a below average rating – when it comes to staffing. 

CBS 17 discovered,  9 out of the 11 nursing homes in Fayetteville have a below average or much below average rating for staffing. Medicare explained, “higher staffing levels in a nursing home may mean a higher quality of care for residents.” 

When it comes to complaints, N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation database online only documented back to 2011. It listed 21 complaints at Whispering Pines. In more than half of the complaints, inspectors found no deficiencies. But Tracey Ervin’s complaint filed in March 2019 was not listed online. The DHHS could not tell us why.  Margie Whitehead stated there should be more transparency and additional follow-ups by DHHS when reviewing complaints. 

“Hold people accountable for what they do. They have to be held accountable for what they do,” said Whitehead.

Experts recommend these following steps  when picking a nursing home: 

  • Go in person to see the facility for yourself.
  • Check their star ratings with state departments online.
  • Don’t just look at the overall rating, check each sub-category and the ratings connected to that.

To check the quality ratings on nursing homes near you, click here.
To check the state database of complaints filed with DHHS and DHSR, click here.

For more stories like this that matter to you, click here to download the CBS 17 News app for free.

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