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Whitefish nursing home sued for negligence in COVID deaths

Whitefish nursing home sued for negligence in COVID deaths

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A long-term care facility in Whitefish has been sued for negligence after health officials said "severe noncompliance" allowed COVID-19 to rip through its facility earlier this year.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Flathead County District Court represents the estates of Alton Johnson, Berton Pew and Stanley Webber, three residents plaintiffs allege were killed by the virus while residing at Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation. At least 13 have died from the virus at the facility, according to the lawsuit. At large, Flathead County has seen 23 COVID-related deaths, according to state officials' tally.

The suit names the 100-bed long-term care facility as well as its administrator, Reid Crickmore, as defendants. A voicemail left for Crickmore on Tuesday afternoon was not returned.

In September, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a report saying 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," Montana Public Radio reported. That month, the CMS rated the facility in "immediate jeopardy," the Daily Inter Lake reported then.

Tuesday's lawsuit draws on that 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," according to the lawsuit. Since late August, at least 75% of the facility's residents have contracted the virus, the suit states. 

The first positive case in the facility came on Aug. 12, according to the lawsuit.

Johnson, one of the dead residents represented in the lawsuit, entered the facility in June and was scheduled to be a there only three months, according to court filings.

"From the date of his admission, his children watched their father grow progressively thin, pale and ultimately to become cognitively unresponsive," attorneys for Johnson's family wrote. 

Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 25. On Sept. 7, one day before his family was set to remove him from the facility, Johnson died from COVID-19-related complications, the suit states.

The family of Pew was only able to visit him twice in his time at the long-term care facility, according to the lawsuit. In August, Pew developed symptoms and was transferred to the COVID-19 wing of the facility, although his family was not notified until the following day when when they called to check on his status, the suit states. Plaintiffs allege Pew lost 50 pounds before perishing from the virus on Aug. 27.

Webber lost approximately 40 pounds before he died on Sept. 14, according to the lawsuit. His family said in the filing that Webber was in "relatively good health before his admission to Defendant's facility."

Crickmore, the suit alleges, had knowledge of the facility's deficiencies months before the outbreak but "ignored complaints, guidelines and agency recommendations and requirements" as confirmed cases mounted at Whitefish Care and Rehab.

The lawsuit alleges Crickmore, Whitefish Care and Rehab and the facility's parent company, Sweetwater Whitefish Opco, of negligence, breach of contract, violation of the Montana Consumer Protection Act, Wrongful Death and more. The filing seeks punitive damages to be determined at trial.

The Heenan and Cook firm of Billings and McGarvey Law in Kalispell are representing the plaintiffs.

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