Nursing Home at Epicenter of Washington State Virus Outbreak Sued

A man blocks the view as a person is taken by a stretcher to a waiting ambulance from a nursing facility where more than 50 people are sick and being tested for the Covid-19 virus in Kirkland, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE (CN) – The daughter of a Covid-19 victim has sued the owners and operators of a Seattle-area nursing home where her mother lived, claiming they failed to quarantine residents and staff, admitted new residents and allowed a Mardi Gras party at the facility despite being on alert for the virus.

Twilla June Morin, 85, died March 4 at Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. The center was the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. in early March. The center has seen 129 cases and more than 37 deaths, according to the complaint filed in King County Superior Court.

Morin’s daughter Deborah de los Angeles sued the facility’s parent companies, Life Centers of America and Lake Vue Operations, as well as Life Care Center of Kirkland executive director Ellie Basham and Life Care Centers of America’s western vice president of operations Todd Fletcher on claims of fraud and wrongful death.

In her lawsuit, de los Angeles says the center was placed on “high alert” Jan. 21, after a neighboring county identified the first U.S. Covid-19 case.

Life Care began discouraging visitors Feb. 10 after residents began showing flu-like symptoms, but the center didn’t notify county officials of a suspected influenza outbreak for 17 days despite being required to file a report within 24 hours, the complaint says.

Despite the suspected flu outbreak — which turned out to be coronavirus — the center continued to admit new patients and held a Mardi Gras party where residents sat “wheelchair to wheelchair,” according to the complaint.

De los Angeles says Life Care staff notified her on March 1 that everyone at the facility was on quarantine and her mother, who was ill, was stable.

Then on March 3, she got a call saying her mother had a fever of 104 degrees and was not expected to survive. De los Angeles says she asked where the resident physician was and was told the doctor “had not been on site for weeks.”

Her mother died in the early morning March 5.

Morin was not the first resident at the facility to die from Covid-19 and de los Angeles says Life Care never notified her about the previous deaths.

Federal regulators investigated the facility in March and found widespread and serious violations, prompting a $611,00 fine by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

According to a report released by federal and state regulators, the facility failed to rapidly identify and manage sick residents, did not notify state officials about the increase in respiratory illness among residents and failed to have a backup plan in the absence of Life Care’s primary physician, who became ill himself and left the facility March 2.

A follow-up inspection later in March found the facility had corrected some problems so it will be allowed to operate until Sept. 16, when officials will assess its progress again, federal officials said.

In a statement, Life Care Center offered sympathy but declined to comment on the case.

“Our hearts go out to this family and the loss they have suffered during this unprecedented viral outbreak. We are unable to comment on specific legal cases that are pending, but we wish this and all families peace. The loss of any of our residents at Life Care Center of Kirkland is felt deeply by us,” the company said in its statement.

De los Angeles seeks general and special damages. She is represented by Stephen Mickelsen of the firm Mickelsen Dalton of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

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