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Families of Deceased COVID-19 Patients Sue Nursing Facility

— November 4, 2020

Three families of nursing facility residents who lost their lives to the coronavirus filed a lawsuit claiming negligence.

The families of three late residents of Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation have filed a lawsuit against the nursing facility with Flathead County District Court over the passing of their relatives to COVID-19.  They are suing the 100-bed care center, its owners and the center’s director after a state inspection conducted at the end of August resulted in the placement of a new temporary site manager and a list of mandated changes.

More than a dozen Whitefish residents have died to date, and the inspectors reported “severe noncompliance” with COVID-19 protocols and at least 43 residents that were still in harm’s ways.  Seven were already infected and at risk of spreading the virus at the time of the state’s findings.

In September, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a report indicating Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation’s “noncompliance has placed the health and safety of recipients in its care at risk for serious injury, serious harm, serious impairment or death.”  That same month, the CMS rated the facility in “immediate jeopardy.”

Families of Deceased COVID-19 Patients Sue Nursing Facility
Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash

The suit alleges residents were “abused, malnourished or otherwise mistreated under the guise of COVID-19 protocols.”  It states not only did the staff fail to quarantine infected residents and stop the spread of COVID-19, they did not inform families of the dire conditions.

Plaintiffs cite the internal report, as well as a Focused Infection Control Survey conducted in May, which determined “that Whitefish Care and Rehab had not implemented the CMS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended practices to prepare for COVID-19…Since late August, at least 75% of the facility’s residents have contracted the virus,” according to the suit.

A COVID-19 Focused Control Survey at the facility was also conducted by DPHHS officials on August 31 and September 1 and the findings showed “staff members were rooming presumptive COVID-19 positive residents with COVID-19 negative residents.”  Investigators also reported, “Staff was entering COVID-19 positive resident rooms without proper PPE and staff at the facility was not attempting to assist with maintaining social distancing for all residents.”  DPHHS interviewed a staff member on Aug. 31 who could not remember the last time she had any PPE training.

That employee, not identified by name, reportedly responded, “I think maybe I had training on hand hygiene five [to] six months ago, I don’t know.  I am so tired.  I can’t even think, we are all working off no energy.”

“Not only negligent treatment that resulted in the death of the individuals whose estates are named in the complaint, but even more fundamentally we’ve alleged that it’s a violation of human dignity,” McGraw Law Firm attorney Roger Sullivan said.

The three residents who are at the center of the lawsuit were admitted over the summer.  “They were elderly, at least in some instances, there was a hope that as a result of rehabilitation that would be received during the course of their stay, they would then be discharged back to their families,” Sullivan explained.  He added that the suit is currently in the discovery process, stating, “We’re looking for what we call precipitant witnesses and anybody that has information that relates to this lawsuit, we are in process of gathering that information as best we can.”


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