At 3:30 a.m. on March 5, Pat Herrick received a phone call from the Life Care Center of Kirkland.
A nurse informed Herrick that her mother, Elaine, a resident at the senior living facility, had died. Then, about seven hours later, Herrick received another call from the center. Herrick was told that Elaine was alive and well.
Herrick said that she corrected the employee, who then realized that Elaine had in fact passed but her information had not been updated since her death. Herrick, though, neither holds ill will against the center nor the nurse.
“Apparently, the nurse that had called me, she was swamped,” Herrick said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “She was giving meds, she was doing temperatures, she was trying to deal with the coroner and everybody else that was trying to get my mom out. She somehow neglected to get all the information in the chart. That’s tragic. But I also have great compassion for [the nurse’s] humanity.”
Life Care has been linked to the bulk of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases in the United States. In the last week, the center, according to the loved ones of residents, has become increasingly disorganized as cases have become more common.
But family members, who coordinated a press conference outside the facility at about 2 p.m. Thursday, emphasized that they are more upset with entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state Department of Health (DOH) than the center, whom they acknowledged is not being sufficiently supported as conditions worsen. Most reported having great experiences working with Life Center previously.
Sound Publishing reached out to representatives from Life Care but did not receive an immediate response.
Those who spoke at the conference clarified that they had organized the gathering to amplify their concerns, with Herrick’s recent experience acting as a major catalyst.
“If [officials] have time to hold press conferences to answer your questions, they have time to meet with our families and answer our questions,” Kevin Connolly, whose 81-year-old father-in-law is a Life Care resident, said to the several members of the press who congregated at the facility. “We have questions, and we demand answers. If anyone’s questions should be answered, it’s ours.”
Connolly, echoing others who spoke, added that the CDC presence at the center and its general support has been insufficient, that staff at the facility is very limited and that there are no strict quarantine or control measures at Life Care in place that he has seen. He also criticized officials such as Vice President Mike Pence, who was scheduled to arrive in Washington state Thursday amid coronavirus concerns and King County Executive Dow Constantine for not reaching out to family members.
‘The thing is out of control’
Mike Weatherill’s mother, Louise (85), who had lived at Life Care since September 2019, died March 4. On March 1, Weatherill said his mother was doing well. On March 2, she was not feeling well and on March 3, she was given antibiotics but had no fever.
Early in the morning March 4, Louise came down with a fever and was transferred to EvergreenHealth. By 6 a.m., she had died. No family members were present. Weatherill, who was sleeping at the time of his mother’s death, said he heard of her death at about 7 a.m.
It is unknown whether Louise, whose blood and tissue sample results are due back within the next couple of days, died of a coronavirus infection.
“In my heart, I think she did pass away from the COVID-19 virus,” Weatherill said. “The thing is out of control.”
Weatherill said that because his surviving family members are anxious about potentially contracting coronavirus, it is likely that his mother’s life will not be celebrated through a funeral. Rather, Weatherill will scatter her ashes at Mount St. Helens to commemorate her Cowlitz tribal heritage.
Weatherill, like others who spoke, said he doesn’t blame anyone at the facility. He personally is more so upset with the Chinese government, for example, whom he had heard had not disclosed coronavirus concerns as promptly as it could have.
Weatherill said he has not been tested for the disease per the advice of a physician.
Bonnie Holstad, whose 73-year-old husband, Ken, is at the center for rehabilitation, highlighted a conundrum faced by many families who have loved ones at the facility who are not confirmed to have coronavirus. Because other similar centers are wary of accepting those who have been in contact with Life Care, many are experiencing a common quandary. Do they keep their loved ones at the facility, or do they take them home and potentially incur more problems?
“I’m fearful every single day that he may develop more symptoms,” Holstad said. “Help us get solutions for what to do with the people right now, here in this — I’m calling it a Petri dish.”
Colleen Mallory, whose mother is currently at Life Care, visited the center on March 2. She described the center as “very eerie.” Mallory said the halls were empty except for a few workers, who were wearing scrubs and masks, and that many doors were closed. When she went to her mother’s room in the late morning, she was still in bed.
“And that worries me, if they’re leaving [residents] in bed all day,” she said. “Their skin’s going to break down, and that’s going to cause more problems.”
Mallory likened what her mother was going through to solitary confinement.
At the end of the conference, Connolly reiterated the inadequate response from the CDC and other entities.
“The fact that I have to pull this together and organize this is asinine,” Connolly said. “And it’s embarrassing that the response from the CDC and from our local government, from the Department of Health to our federal government, is laughable.”
This story originally appeared in the Bothell-Kenmore Reporter, a sister publication to The Herald.