'Our staff paid the price': blame swamps virus-hit US care home

Los Angeles (AFP) –


As coronavirus sweeps the US, the instinct to search for culprits has intensified -- and nowhere more than the ravaged care home near Seattle where 35 people, mainly residents, have died.

The Life Care Center in Kirkland is linked to almost one-quarter of all deaths nationwide, leaving angered families -- many of whom have relatives still trapped inside -- demanding answers.

On Wednesday a report by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stoked those flames, drawing attention to nurses who continued to work while infected, and shortcomings in training and equipment.

It echoed a sense of total chaos and breakdown of organization frequently voiced by family members.

"There is no quarantine here. This disease is running rampant," Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law Jerry Wall, 81, is a resident, told reporters earlier this month.

The home had 120 residents, and is linked to 35 confirmed coronavirus deaths.

"We have questions, and we demand answers," Connolly said.

Among those demands: who was responsible for delays, from identifying coronavirus -- it was initially thought to be flu -- to conducting mass testing and locking down the facility.

"It's pretty devastating," Clancy Devery, son-in-law of infected patient Chuck Sedlacek, told the Seattle Times.

"We felt like if they had honored our request to be tested and get him out of there, we would not be in the situation we're in."

- 'Easier' -

Multiple analyses of 911 call logs and interviews have pointed to occasions on which staff, local and federal officials were slow to act.

The home says a respiratory outbreak was noticed February 10, but a "hard shut" from the outside world took another month.

"It's been easier for people to blame this one nursing home facility," Life Care Center spokesman Tim Killian told AFP.

"The media is complaining it was (all) us. We're gonna take our lumps, we get that."

But aside from the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, the "government wasn't completely ready to respond to the things that we would have needed to be able to contain this," he added.

Test kits for all residents were not delivered for a week-and-a-half after the first confirmed case, Killian said.

"It took about a week to get additional health care staff on site," he added.

Regarding the delays in isolation, "it took us a while to feel like we had received the proper authority from government" to close off the home.

Even now, there are no police or government officials manning the door, he said.

Nurses continue to tend to those inside -- 32 of whom are positive for COVID-19. The only other exception is family visits to those on death's door.

- 'Horrid luck' -

Some family members have expressed empathy for the home's overburdened staff.

Pat Herrick was mistakenly told by a nurse that her mother Elaine was still living, after already being informed she had passed.

"That's tragic. But I also have great compassion for [the nurse's] humanity," she said.

"We had just the horrid luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Scott Sedlacek, who caught coronavirus visiting his father Chuck, told the Washington Post.

Connolly described the government response at all levels as "laughable."

Yet local officials have pointed the finger back at the home.

"We've had some challenges with Life Care, and I'm starting to lose my patience," King County executive Dow Constantine told journalists.

Killian, noting that his facility was among the very first hit in the US, insists that "our nurses were not the cause of the viral outbreak."

"The virus was the cause of this viral outbreak," he said. "Our staff paid a price for that.