Ill. Nursing Home Hit With COVID-19 Wrongful Death Suits

By Celeste Bott
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Law360 (May 19, 2020, 4:29 PM EDT) -- An Illinois nursing home has been hit with two wrongful death lawsuits over an outbreak of COVID-19 that caused more than 20 deaths among residents and staff, with the facility being accused of failing to take adequate protective measures and "leaving its vulnerable residents defenseless against the community spread of the virus."

Pamela Colwell says in her lawsuit that her mother, Helen A. Osucha, was not isolated or tested for the novel coronavirus at Bria Health Services of Geneva, despite a rapid deterioration of her health that left her bedridden and unable to eat or use the bathroom on her own. Osucha died in April, but the nursing home failed to notify Colwell that her mother was gravely ill due to a coronavirus infection contracted at its facility, according to the complaint filed in the Circuit Court of Kane County on Monday.

Peter Flowers of Meyers & Flowers LLC,  who represents the families suing the facility, told Law360 on Tuesday that Bria-Geneva "took essentially no precautions" to protect its residents and workers, and that more lawsuits will be filed against the nursing home in the coming days. 

"To me, having handled many catastrophic cases all over the United States, this is the most outrageous thing I've ever seen," Flowers said. "It's clearly a facility that's broken and needs to be held responsible, and hopefully the state will step in and shut down facilities like this. Because this can't happen. This shouldn't happen."

A representative of the nursing home could not be immediately reached for comment. 

A second lawsuit making similar allegations against the facility was filed in Illinois state court on Tuesday by the husband of a resident who died this month due to COVID-19 complications. According to that complaint, a nurse practitioner of Bria-Geneva emailed the daughter of Lucille Helen James and confirmed that her mother had a cough and a chest X-ray that indicated signs of pneumonia. Despite those symptoms, James was not isolated or tested for coronavirus as requested by her family, her husband, Donald James, said in his complaint.

While numerous residents began exhibiting symptoms of upper respiratory infections in March, Bria-Geneva didn't confirm its first case of COVID-19 until April 17, according to the lawsuits.

The nursing home ignored directives from the state and federal government, including guidance issued specifically for long-term care facilities like Bria-Geneva to help control the spread of COVID-19, based upon the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the families said. 

Bria-Geneva "failed to isolate those residents from asymptomatic residents, failed to ensure adequate supplies of PPE were easily accessible to residents and staff, failed to implement continuous screening of residents and staff, including temperature checks and the use of checklists to identify symptomatic individuals, and failed to notify either the Kane County Health Department or the [Illinois Department of Public Health] of symptomatic residents to determine if COVID-19 testing was indicated," Colwell alleged.

The facility's medical director, Dr. Philip Branshaw, confirmed in an interview with local reporters that residents exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms were not presumed to be coronavirus-positive until mid-April, "triggering rampant community spread of the virus amongst the facility's residents and staff," according to the lawsuits. 

The family members also claim that Bria-Geneva did not procure sufficient COVID-19 testing kits for residents until April 23 or 24, when it reported more than 50 cases, and by May, more than 80% of its residents and staff had been infected.

As of May 8, the facility reported 114 coronavirus cases and 21 deaths among residents and employees, according to the complaints.

Colwell and James are represented by Peter J. Flowers and Michael W. Lenert of Meyers & Flowers LLC.

Counsel information for the Geneva Nursing and Rehabilitation Center could not be immediately determined.

The cases are Pamela Colwell v. Geneva Nursing and Rehabilitation Center LLC, d/b/a Bria Health Services of Geneva, case number 20-L-000244, and Donald James v. Geneva Nursing and Rehabilitation Center LLC, d/b/a Bria Health Services of Geneva, case number 20-L-000247, in the Circuit Court of Kane County.

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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