CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Waylon Wallace was in a Charlotte nursing home in March, recovering from a stroke that almost killed him, when someone stole the specialized wheelchair he'd gotten from the VA hospital.
“When I came in that night it was in his room, I know that it was there,” said Wallace’s wife, Anthonette. “When I came back the next morning, it wasn't there.”
The Wallaces said the wheelchair wasn't the only thing that disappeared in the three months they were in the facility, and Waylon, who had worked for decades as a security guard, began to wonder just how secure the facility was.
“Yes, I know security and there was no security there,” he told Channel 9. “The exit doors would be open.”
“A lot of times people were stepping out to smoke -- residents and others -- and propped the door open so they could get back in,” Anthonette added.
The questions surrounding nursing home security came into sharp focus two months ago, when police said a man managed to get into two different Charlotte nursing homes late at night and sexually assaulted two elderly patients.
Eyewitness News reviewed police reports from all of Mecklenburg County’s nursing homes in 2017, and found dozens of crimes reported, including the two break-ins and sexual assaults, as well as other simple assaults reported by patients and employees.
There were also dozens of thefts reported, from cash to jewelry and prescription painkillers.
When Channel 9 contacted the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, they said they enforce federal guidelines that only require facilities to provide "reasonable clinical and safety restrictions that … protect the health and security of all residents and staff."
But how facilities do that is up to each one individually.
Cindy Englert, an ombudsman with the Centralina Area Agency on Aging, told Channel 9 that with no specific regulations, it’s up to residents or their families to check nursing home ratings online and to ask tough questions.
“Safety and security is a great opportunity for families, collectively rather than just a single family coming forward, saying, ‘Hey, I'm concerned about this,’” she said.
“And don't be afraid to ask the facility how do they ensure safety? What protocols do they have in place? When do the doors lock? When do the doors unlock?” Englert suggested.
Channel 9 contacted the nursing home where Wallace had his wheelchair stolen to ask about security measures there but has not heard back.
Wallace is back home, but wonders why state or federal regulators can't force nursing homes meet certain security standards.
“If they're receiving any tax money to support them, they should (be forced to meet standards),” he said.
“These facilities are very expensive, so I'm certain that they could afford that,” Anthonette added.
Eyewitness News got in touch with the North Carolina Healthcare Facilities Association, which represents nursing homes in the Charlotte area, to ask them about our findings.
They have not returned our phone calls or emails.
© 2017 Cox Media Group.