State’s top health official: Pervasive injustices must be addressed

State Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen

State Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen took a brief departure from her coronavirus briefing Monday to invoke the name of George Floyd.

“I can’t say anything else, without first saying his name. George Floyd is now one of far too many who have lost their lives,” explained Cohen.

“Pervasive injustices have been hardened into our system over centuries. Too often people of color pay for these longstanding inequities with their lives.”

Dr. Cohen acknowledged that structural racism has resulted in poor outcomes in educational attainment, criminal justice and health for many minorities.

While African Americans make up 22 percent of the state’s population, they account for 34 percent of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities.

Sec. Cohen said Monday she supports the need to peacefully protest. She also pledged to use her place of privilege to do better in addressing social and health disparities.

The department is prioritizing working with minority-owned businesses or vendors who retain a diverse workforce as it looks to build on its testing capacity and contact tracing.

“We want those partners to focus on their testing and tracing work in historically-marginalized communities.”

As of Monday afternoon, North Carolina had recorded 29,262 cases of COVID-19 and 898 deaths. African Americans represent 293 of those deaths.

Click below to hear an excerpt of Sec. Cohen’s remarks.


Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

ACLU of NC responds to protests, militarized police action

Police across the nation have responded with violence and militarization to ongoing protests against the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police.

In North Carolina, protests have taken place throughout the state, with demonstrators and police clashing in Raleigh, Fayetteville and Charlotte. The ACLU of North Carolina is responding. Below is the statement the organization released today:

“The protests and uprisings happening here in North Carolina and across the country are a direct response to the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, and the epidemic of police violence and brutality that has victimized Black communities for centuries.

The violent and militarized tactics we saw deployed by state and local law enforcement over the weekend were a dangerous affront to First Amendment rights that inflamed tensions and endangered the lives and well-being of protesters and journalists. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and military-grade equipment are weapons of war that have no place on our city streets and serve only to compound the suffering and grief gripping our Black and Brown communities.

State and local law enforcement agencies must immediately begin respecting the constitutional rights of demonstrators, including halting the use of excessive force, suspending the use of militarized equipment, and ensuring safe spaces for people to express their demands for justice.

Curfews also raise serious constitutional concerns by broadly infringing on the rights of peaceful demonstrators, and serving as a pretext for biased arrests. By making presence on public streets anywhere in the city unlawful, these measures will lead to selective enforcement against people of color, and risk harassment of people who are unhoused. Any such restriction must clearly communicate to the public when and where it will apply, articulate valid justifications for the restrictions, and provide ample alternative locations where people may gather to express their views on the important issues.

Combined with the aggressive show of military force and the troubling accounts of excessive force by the police, curfews repeat the violence and brutality at the root of the protests.

Above all, our elected officials must begin to confront and address the systemic racism and injustice that pervades our society and our institutions. The pain and anguish that is spilling out onto our streets is a result of our country’s repeated failure to address the institutionalized racism and injustice that has claimed countless Black lives. Without justice, there will not be peace. We will continue to stand with our fellow North Carolinians against white supremacy and police violence.”


Some images and initial observations from downtown Raleigh this morning

A door to the state Supreme Court building on Morgan Street

It was a remarkably cool, breezy and beautiful first day of June in downtown Raleigh this morning. As I biked around some of the aftermath of the weekend protests, I saw several striking and often weirdly contradictory images.

I saw, for instance, a handful of joggers — at least one pushing child in a stroller — as well as a handful of what appeared to be business people, trying to make their way to work around shards of broken glass.

In some places, public and private clean-up trucks and crews were pulling up outside of businesses as a helicopter hovered overhead.

Two adults and a young boy sweep up glass outside of the Fire Wok restaurant on Fayetteville Street

Near the Marriott Hotel on Fayetteville Street, a father urged his infant son to pose for a photo near a segment of the street in which bricks had been removed.

Outside of Ashley Christensen’s Poole’side Pies, I saw someone who appeared to be the owner checking out the status of her boarded-up establishment.

Meanwhile, nearby, traffic hummed along on McDowell and Dawson streets at what appeared to be a fairly typical, pandemic-level volume and construction crews went about their business adding to a new high-rise at the corner of Dawson and Hillsborough Streets.

Repair crew trucks on Fayetteville Street outside of the damaged Happy & Hale restaurant.

West of downtown along the Hillsborough Street corridor toward NC State, I saw a handful of broken windows and a couple of what appeared to be preemptively boarded up businesses.

The damage seemed mostly minor and symbolic and will, one presumes, likely be repaired in short order. While there is some shock and sadness in seeing familiar sites damaged — especially where it has a negative impact on innocent people just trying to earn a living — the fact remains that the damage from the protests pales in comparison to the murders of George Floyd and so many other men and women of color in this country by law enforcement officers (not to mention horrific damage done to the lives of millions of people every day by the disastrous and frequently racist policies our national, state and local governments so often pursue).

As Gov. Roy Cooper rightfully put it over the weekend:

“George Floyd should be alive, along with many others….We cannot focus so much on property damage that we forget why people are in the streets in the first place…Black lives do matter,”

One can only hope that the events of recent days will serve to wake people up to the systemic injustice that both plagues our society and helped spur the outrage that spilled across the national canvas in recent days.

A broken glass door at a business on Hillsborough Street west of downtown

A burned out chair near the back entrance to the Kimbrell’s store on Salisbury Street

The Confederate monument on the state Capitol grounds at the intersection of Salisbury and Hillsborough Streets

COVID-19, public health, Trump Administration

Citadel nursing home in Salisbury using Trump administration rule to avoid COVID-19 lawsuit

Image: Adobe Stock

The owners of the Citadel nursing home in Salisbury have invoked a new federal law that could allow them to avoid being sued by patients who contracted or died from COVID-19 while under its care.

Recent court documents show that Accordius Health, LLC, a for-profit company that owns 90 nursing facilities in nine states, has petitioned a judge to toss a lawsuit filed by two residents’ powers of attorney.

Instead Accordius is arguing that before being admitted to the Citadel, residents — or their legal representatives — signed documents agreeing that all disputes would go to confidential arbitration proceedings rather than be publicly heard in court.

The Citadel is also known as the Salisbury Center.

Wallace & Graham and Gugenheim Law are suing Accordius Health on behalf of Thomas Del Marshall and Robert Leroy Whitlach “seeking a comprehensive view of the facility’s policies” to prevent further neglect. The firms and their clients are not asking for monetary damages.

Since early April, the Citadel has reported 113 cases of COVID-19 among its residents, the highest number of all nursing facilities in North Carolina, according to state records. Eighteen residents have died. Of the staff, 44 have tested positive for the disease.

A one-star facility — a “much below average rating” — the Citadel was cited for abuse by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last fall.

“Despite the company being responsible for significant nursing home outbreaks, the company filed documents in court attempt to enforce arbitration agreements upon residents who want justice – preventing residents from having their day in court before a jury,” attorney Mona Lisa Wallace wrote in a prepared statement. “The company seeks to keep the proceedings confidential and to keep information hidden from the public.  The company further seeks to keep the lawsuit out of the state court or in the county where the facility is located, where loved ones and elders are sick and dying even today.”

Under the Obama administration, CMS banned such pre-admission arbitration agreements. According to the Illinois Law Review, CMS passed the regulation because it believed “it is fundamentally unfair and almost impossible for residents or their decision-makers to give fully informed and voluntary consent to arbitration before a dispute has arisen.”

The nursing home industry sued and a federal court suspended the rule. Then in 2017, under the Trump administration, CMS proposed a different rule, according to the American Bar Association, that “went to the other extreme.” That proposal allowed not only nursing homes to take cases to arbitration but made signing the agreement a condition of admission to the facility.

Finally, a rule enacted last September allows for arbitration, but not as a requirement for admission to a facility.

Arbitration proceedings are confidential, so no evidence can be publicly disclosed; nor is there a jury trial. It is also difficult to appeal an arbitration.

Even if residents could sue nursing homes on COVID-19 claims, it would now be difficult to win. North Carolina lawmakers passed, and the governor signed, an omnibus COVID-19 bill last month that gives immunity from civil lawsuits to these and other health care facilities. They could still be sued for criminal acts related to COVID-19, such as willful neglect, but the burden of proof in criminal cases is much higher.

COVID-19, News, Policing, race

Cooper: NC National Guard to address unrest, focus on de-escalation, listening

After a night of violent protests, Governor Roy Cooper said as many as 450 guardsmen would be available to North Carolina cities with the focus on protecting public structures.

In a rare Sunday press conference, the governor said he had spoken directly with the mayors of Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Fayetteville and granted their request for state support. He also urged the mayors to work with their local police departments to prioritize de-escalating tensions.

“We cannot focus so much on the property damage that we forget why people are in the streets in the first place,” said Cooper.

Governor Cooper says leaders must create an open dialogue with protesters outraged by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“Racism, excessive use of force, health disparities, poverty, white supremacy. These are wrong. They are ugly. But they are present.”

The governor also revealed that he had spoken with Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister, who lives in Hoke County.

“While I cannot bring her brother back, I can work for justice in his name.”

The governor said while this is a painful moment for North Carolina and the nation, we must constructively channel our anger to force accountability, fight racism and create thriving communities for everyone.