By Thomas Goldsmith

More than 380 older and vulnerable North Carolinians have been evacuated from assisted living and skilled nursing centers in the path of Hurricane Dorian, state emergency and health and human services officials said Thursday.

man standing at a podium speaking, a sign language interpreter stands next to him, hands in midair.
State emergency management director Mike Sprayberry speaks to reporters during a briefing on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 5. Photo credit: Thomas Goldsmith

An NC Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said two nursing homes had evacuated 93 residents and six assisted living facilities have evacuated 291 by Thursday afternoon, for a total of 384 residents. DHHS also monitors conditions at North Carolina hospitals, but none had been evacuated by Thursday afternoon.

Some frail residents took shelter at a specialized medical needs center in Johnston County.

“We’ve got about 30 occupants that are in the medical shelter in Clayton,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at an afternoon press conference on Hurricane Dorians’ recent developments.

Mike Sprayberry, the director of North Carolina Emergency Management, said that a representative of long-term care facilities was on hand to consult with other officials at the NC State Emergency Operations Center in West Raleigh.

“Most of the licensed care facilities felt like their facilities were hardened enough to be able to withstand the event with backup power, although there have been several that have moved,” Sprayberry said. “That gets coordinated not only with them but here at the State Emergency Operations Center.”

DHHS spokesperson Kelly Haight Connor said the agency is keeping an eye on the effects Hurricane Dorian could have on vulnerable citizens in a variety of settings. The department’s Division of Health Service Regulation keeps contact with hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in areas where Dorian could cause problems. Departmental planners monitor how facilities are faring, to offer help and to direct facility staff to local resources as needed, Connor said in an email.

“Prior communications to these facilities reminded them of the importance of evaluating their preparedness and plans for evacuation,” she said.

Jeff Horton, executive director of the assisted living trade organization North Carolina Senior Living Association, said some centers in flood-prone southeastern North Carolina started evacuating residents as early as Tuesday.

“Some of my members were taking proactive steps to move residents at facilities that might have been at risk in a previous hurricane,” Horton said

Dangers that frail long-term care residents could face during a natural disaster drew a harrowing spotlight following the deaths of 12 older people at a long-term care center in Hollywood, Fla. after Hurricane Irma in 2017. Four former employees of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills face felony homicide charges in deaths that occurred after air conditioning failed at the center, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

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Thomas Goldsmith worked in daily newspapers for 33 years before joining North Carolina Health News. Goldsmith is a native Tar Heel who attended the UNC-Chapel Hill, and worked at newspapers in Tennessee...