Nursing Home Residents Shoulder the Cost of Poor COVID-19 Practices
COVID-19 has been particularly devastating for those living in long-term care facilities. In some Illinois counties, nursing home resident deaths make up 40% or more of total COVID-19 deaths in that area. While people in nursing homes are more likely to be elderly or have existing medical conditions which make infection from disease especially dangerous, they are not expendable.
At Levin & Perconti, we work with thousands of older Americans every year who have been neglected or abused within the healthcare system, and they often feel like they’ve been swept aside by society. Our message is clear: the lives and health of those living in nursing homes are valuable. Residents should be able to live in safe environments with enough space to avoid coming into contact with sick residents or staff.
Throughout the duration of the pandemic, Illinois nursing home and other long term care facility residents have not been adequately supported. Nursing home owners have not provided their staff with the safety equipment they need to keep themselves and their residents healthy; facilities are understaffed in an effort to cut costs; and in some cases, staff themselves have violated the standard of care, putting their residents at risk.
Prior to COVID-19, nursing homes were required to have effective infection control measures in place. Many facilities throughout Illinois were previously cited for infection control issues, and these deficiencies became devastatingly obvious during the pandemic.
“Facilities did not have the right staff, the right supplies, the right training and the right infection control procedures to deal with ordinary communicable diseases, let alone the pandemic,” Steve Levin told NBC Chicago.
The Worst Offenders
Nursing home owners and operators have taken on the task of caring for the health and wellbeing of their residents. Unfortunately, residents regularly see substandard, neglectful, and sometimes downright abusive care. Infection control measures that were not adhered to in certain nursing homes include: the failure to use PPE, like masks and gloves; cross contamination between wards, rooms, and patients; lack of basic hygienic practices like handwashing; ineffective sanitizing products; failure to monitor residents for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 so that residents can be isolated upon suspicion for the disease and the cohorting of residents with COVID-19 with residents who are not positive. Since 2016, 89% of the nursing homes in Illinois have been cited at least once for infection control issues – one of the worst track records in the country. Nursing home employees are overworked and underpaid, creating a system that buckles when faced with pressure. Nurses and caregivers throughout Illinois paint a picture of understaffed and badly-managed facilities, which endangers their wellbeing too.
Symphony Care Network
The Symphony Care network owns 17 skilled nursing facilities in the state of Illinois. In total, Levin & Perconti has 62 currently filed cases against Symphony facilities across the state. Issues range from falls, bed sores, and malnutrition to injuries resulting in death. 11 of these are COVID-19 wrongful death cases. We are alleging that the Symphony Network consistently provided substandard care to their residents, failed to ensure there was sufficient staff available to care for residents, and failed to adequately and/or timely implement infection control procedures and safeguards against infectious diseases. Across their facilities, 247 residents and two staff members died as a direct result of COVID-19. 1708 confirmed resident cases were recorded throughout their Illinois locations. In several facilities, staff vaccination rates are lower than resident vaccination rates.
Symphony of Joliet is permanently closed following one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the state of Illinois. In the past, they were cited for basic hygiene issues, including not properly cleaning residents after using the bathroom. Not only does this affect the dignity of residents, it puts them at risk for serious infections. Symphony of Joliet was also cited for failure to properly use PPE and even improper handwashing, both of which are integral to the health of staff and residents alike. Back in April 2020, 24 residents and a staff member had died from COVID-19. Levin & Perconti is alleging gross negligence in Symphony of Joliet’s handling of COVID-19; instead of making sure they were adequately staffed and were providing PPE, this Symphony location opted to use their resources to deny the presence of COVID-19 in the nursing home.
ManorCare (now called ProMedica) is also amongst the companies with facilities that have egregious regulatory histories. ManorCare of Hinsdale (now ProMedica Skilled Nursing and Rehab – Hinsdale) has had 41 total deficiencies over the past three years, including three that were infection control related. They’ve had nine infection control citations since 2014. Their continued inability to prevent the spread of disease throughout the nursing home undoubtedly played a part in the 22 lives lost at this facility.
One case in particular reflects the disorganization and disregard for resident well-being at ManorCare of Hinsdale. One man, whose family has filed a lawsuit, died from complications of COVID-19 on May 2, 2020 at just 45 years old. He was a resident at Hinsdale after a stroke in 2018. For a whole week prior to his death, his family tried desperately to get any insight from the nursing facility about what was being done to protect residents from COVID-19, but were given no information. Finally, the day before he died, the nursing home informed his family that he was being moved from his room because his roommate had tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, he died as a result of COVID-19 which he contracted at ManorCare.
An independent autopsy paid for by the family revealed that he’d had severe pneumonia, was dehydrated, and had contracted gangrene. Despite these serious changes in condition, he was not transferred to a hospital for treatment. According to documents procured by Levin & Perconti, there is no evidence that he was treated for his COVID-19 symptoms at all. At the time of his death, the 45-year-old was in grave condition and should have been sent to a hospital for treatment of his various serious ailments. Instead, his condition was left to deteriorate at ManorCare/ProMedica Hinsdale.
Aperion Care owns a prolific network of long-term care facilities throughout several states. Across their 30+ facilities in Illinois, they reported 2,388 resident COVID-19 cases, 1,722 staff cases, and 344 deaths (including 4 staff members). Multiple facilities report staff vaccination rates of less than 50%. Illinois Department of Health inspection reports over the past years note issues in creating or following resident care plans, dangerous levels of understaffing, a high percentage of residents with signs of depression, and failures in providing or implementing infection control plans.
Specifically, Aperion of Forest Park has been cited for seven infection control deficiencies since 2016 (more than any other nursing home in the state) and has accumulated a whopping $105,000 in fines over the past three years. Levin & Perconti currently has five filed lawsuits against Aperion of Forest Park alone, and 29 total filed cases against Illinois Aperion facilities. Reports of pressure ulcers, dehydration, malnutrition, falls, and COVID-19 wrongful deaths are among the filed complaints.
One 86-year-old woman, who resided at Aperion Care Oak Lawn since 2018, was the matriarch of her family, who are now bringing a suit on her behalf. She had eight grandkids and normally was visited by her family on a daily basis. Her children noticed that if they weren’t there to supervise, nursing home staff would neglect their mother. They remarked that the Oak Lawn facility smelled of urine, and that their mother’s hygiene was not carefully attended to. Aperion was obviously understaffed and this resident was often served cold food, causing her appetite to decrease which led to weight fluctuations. When visitation restrictions were enacted, their concerns grew. Her family was given no information about COVID-19 precautions, or the status of coronavirus cases within the facility.
In May of 2020, records show that our client’s mother was not regularly monitored for COVID-19 symptoms, was not properly hydrated by staff, and was not given medication which was ordered for her. Her health suffered as a result of this neglect, leaving her susceptible to infection. She tested positive for COVID-19 at this point, and her family was never notified despite their regular requests for updates. Days later she was sent to the hospital, where her family finally learned that she was positive for the virus. Her condition quickly declined until her death several weeks later. Her sole cause of death was COVID-19, which she had contracted while in the care of Aperion Care Oak Lawn. We allege that this Aperion nursing home did not take the appropriate steps to prevent exposure to infection and did not ensure that this resident was properly cared for.
BRIA Health Services
Other facilities are being cited for OSHA violations directly related to their handling of coronavirus infections. BRIA of Geneva incurred a $10,000 penalty after an employee was hospitalized with severe respiratory complications after caring for COVID-19 positive patients. This facility has suffered 24 resident deaths related to the virus – losing a quarter of all their residents within just weeks. 36 staff members have tested positive throughout the duration of the pandemic.
Carol Orlando, a resident of the facility, died on April 25, 2020 of COVID-19 and respiratory failure. She suffered from dehydration prior to her death as well, an additional and avoidable act of neglect. Carol had become a CNA at age 50 precisely because she saw the poor care that her own mother received in a nursing home – and tragically, she fell prey to the exact neglect that she saw when she was younger. She entered BRIA of Geneva in 2018, a difficult decision that was made by her daughter, Faith, when Carol needed a higher level of care due to her dementia and memory loss.
As the years went on, Faith became concerned about a number of things. The facility lost her mother’s hearing aid, reducing her ability to communicate, and Faith often noticed issues with the cleanliness of the bathroom and the hygienic care Carol was receiving. In 2019, BRIA of Geneva started Carol on strong psychiatric medications despite her having no history of mental illness.
BRIA of Geneva was not forthright with Faith about her mother’s condition in the days leading up to her death. She was told that Carol’s condition was declining slightly and had a fever, but that she had no COVID-19 symptoms and was not at risk of contracting it. When Faith was allowed to visit in person in full PPE on April 23, 2020, what she saw was horrific and not at all accurate to what she had been told by staff. Her mother was thin, dehydrated, and using supplemental oxygen. She had been denied water because the staff were worried she would aspirate it, but no accommodations were made to make sure Carol was still receiving fluids. Carol’s roommate was maskless, coughing, and there was no divider in the room. A staff member told Faith that they didn’t have enough PPE, and Faith gave her own personal respirator to him. Two days later, Carol died from COVID-19, which was only confirmed after her death, as staff had not tested her despite her fever and sharp decline.
Levin & Perconti is bringing a suit on behalf of Faith and her mother. BRIA of Geneva has a poor regulatory history with the Illinois Department of Public Health, including three infection-related deficiencies. In their 10 Illinois facilities, BRIA Health Services saw 79 resident deaths and almost 1000 resident cases.
Meadowbrook Manor in Bolingbrook is another nursing home that was fined by OSHA, this time for violating standards of respiratory protection. In the past three years, they have paid $24,000 in federal fines for various penalties.
A nurse who had returned to Meadowbrook after maternity leave, contracted COVID-19 and tragically died on May 2, 2020, leaving behind three children and her husband. She was just 35. Leading up to her contracting the virus, this nurse noted a hectic atmosphere and a lack of masks and other PPE at the facility. She had to make her own masks and bring in protective goggles when they were not provided for her. Her husband, who also worked at Meadowbrook, characterized the nursing home’s environment as “chaotic” and “scary.” A spokesperson for the facility said that the nurse had not been working in an isolation unit, but her family told the Chicago Tribune that she had been working with COVID-19 patients.
12 residents also died from COVID-19 at Meadowbrook. One of these residents was a 70-year-old woman, who passed away the same day the nurse did – May 2, 2020. She contracted the virus while bedridden, leaving her family to wonder if improper infection prevention and cross contamination played a role. Levin & Perconti is now investigating on their behalf. By this point in the pandemic, it was common knowledge that the disease could be transmitted from asymptomatic carriers and that COVID-19 spreads in the air or on droplets – strict PPE guidelines and infection control measures should have been in place. Outbreaks only worsened in the Spring of 2020, painting a picture of a struggling staff that was left without the resources or leadership to effectively control this infectious disease.
Villa at Windsor Park
At the Villa at Windsor Park, nurses and caregivers weren’t given the information they needed to successfully keep their patients safe. “My coworkers and I have told our management that we need more PPE and we need to know who has the virus in our facilities so we can help keep everyone safe, but they seem more focused on protecting their profits than protecting people,” employee Francine Rico told the Rockford Register Star & The State Journal-Register. Rico went on strike “for our lives and the lives of our residents.”
This issue was also highlighted by South Shore Chicago activists in April of 2020. At a news conference, activist leaders said that Villa at Windsor Park management failed to alert their staff and residents once COVID-19 was present in the facility.
Among the 15 residents who died of COVID-19 at this nursing home was a 44-year-old man who was left bedridden and immobile following a bout of severe pneumonia years prior. His mother visited him several times a week, and told Levin & Perconti that he stayed in a crowded room with several other roommates. He had been transferred to Villa at Windsor Park in January of 2020 after developing a bed sore at a previous facility. At first, his treatment seemed okay – after a short time however, he was being kept in bed by nursing staff 24/7, except when he needed to receive dialysis. His mother had been told by a marketer for Villa that they would provide attentive, quality care, and was disappointed to find that this wasn’t the case. After just a couple of months, she was already considering moving him elsewhere – her son complained of theft, poor hygienic care, inedible food, and poor nursing practices. In March of 2020, the facility went on lockdown without giving notice to his family. When his mother tried to visit, she saw unmasked staff within the nursing home and had concerns about empty sanitizer bottles. During lockdown, the 44-year-old resident was not taken out of bed at all, per his calls to family. He was completely dependent on assistance, and sometimes his mother would not hear from her son because the staff wouldn’t help him dial her number or hold the phone.
In mid April, this resident told his mother that Villa staff weren’t providing him with his asthma medication because they’d forgotten to order it. On April 16th, he left a voicemail message for his mother, telling her he was short of breath. The facility had never told her that he was sick or had COVID-19 symptoms of any kind. He was sent to the hospital the same day, but Villa refused to send him to the hospital of his family’s choosing. After a week of respiratory distress and ventilation, he died on April 23, 2020 from COVID-19 which he had contracted at the nursing home. His mother was never able to video chat with him while he was hospitalized. She was never given the chance to say goodbye to her son. She remembers him as a very sweet person who was slow to anger. Levin & Perconti has filed a lawsuit against Villa at Windsor Park on her behalf.
Bridgeview Healthcare Center
Three COVID-19 related wrongful death suits have been brought against Bridgeview Healthcare Center by Levin & Perconti. 25 people died from COVID-19 at this facility including a staff member.
Tainika Somerville, a former CNA at this facility, was fired after voicing her concerns publicly about Bridgeview’s disastrous response to COVID-19. She detailed concerns about resident treatment, COVID testing, and a lack of transparency from management and owners. During a Facebook Live video in April of 2020, she asks, “Why do I gotta find out from the news that a resident from my facility died?” This same video shows her and a group of staff members approaching the nursing home’s higher-ups to demand better pay, more staff, and enough paid sick leave to appropriately care for themselves and their families during the pandemic. Two days later, she was fired.
Residents also suffered as a result of these systemic issues within Bridgeview. One woman had lived there for approximately two years, when her dementia symptoms became too severe for her family to handle. Tainika Somerville was among the CNAs who cared for her, and this resident’s daughter remembers Tainika as a kind and responsive caretaker to her mother. In late March, the 78-year-old resident had a fever and was transported to the hospital, where she died of a COVID-19 infection contracted at Bridgeview. Levin & Perconti is also representing the family of James Zbonski, whose stepdaughter says their family was kept in the dark as to his condition – James was suffering from severe COVID-19 symptoms for days before Bridgeview Healthcare transported him to a hospital, where he later died. Our attorneys allege that Bridgeview’s recklessness and negligence directly contributed to Mr. Zbonski’s death.
Bridgeview has incurred $24,500 in federal fines in the past three years and has been cited for 6 infection control-related deficiencies during that time. Woodbridge Nursing Pavilion is also a for-profit facility under the same ownership, and this facility reported 199 resident cases and 36 resident deaths due to COVID-19. Woodbridge’s staffing situation has a one-star rating by Medicare, indicating a low quality of care due to understaffing.
Bloomington Rehab & Health Care Center
This facility, owned by Peterson Health Care, saw 10 resident deaths and one staff death from COVID-19. Marlene Cowans-Hill was one of these people, and her family is seeking justice. In the months leading up to her death, Marlene experienced regular mistreatment and neglect at the nursing home. Her family was concerned that her diabetes was being mismanaged, and Marlene was often in poor spirits. She told her family that staff would sometimes forget to bring her meals, and her daughter Anita was told by administrators that she should bring in supplemental food for her mother. Marlene would sometimes call her family crying, which concerned and distressed those closest to her.
Bloomington Rehab and Health Care failed to enforce their own COVID-19 precautions. Residents were not supposed to mingle in order to limit any potential spread, but on at least one occasion a patient was left unsupervised and entered Marlene’s room. When she started experiencing shortness of breath and an increased temperature, the nursing home failed to promptly alert Marlene’s family of this change. In the days leading up to her death, Marlene called 911 several times with complaints of shortness of breath and pain, but the nursing home delayed sending her to a hospital. Finally, Anita had to insist that Marlene be taken to the ER, where she died a day later. She was never treated for COVID-19 symptoms at Bloomington Rehab and was never moved to an isolated floor.
Part of what Levin & Perconti is alleging is that this for-profit nursing facility misallocated funds that were meant to go to COVID-19 infection control measures, along with gross negligence. In addition, Bloomington Rehab has a history of mismanagement, understaffing, and IDPH citations. 82 total deficiencies have been documented in the past three years.
Tower Hill Healthcare Center
From December of 2017 to August of 2021, Tower Hill in South Elgin, Illinois has been cited for 54 total deficiencies and accrued $55,000 in fines. They have a 1-star rating on Medicare.gov, where they’ve also been flagged for abuse. This facility is chronically understaffed and rates low in both health inspections and quality measures.
Regina Pomian was a resident of Tower Hill Healthcare Center. She was a Dachau concentration camp survivor who needed skilled nursing care due to a dementia diagnosis which progressed as she aged. When lockdown began, her family was told very little about the situation within the nursing home. In late April of 2020, Tower Hill contacted Regina’s family to inform them that she’d stopped eating solid foods. Staff never mentioned COVID-19 or any related symptoms. A week later, on May 2, 2020, Regina’s son-in-law was told she was unconscious, and that he could come see her if he followed certain precautions. She was clearly ill, which the family had not been told. When he entered the facility, he observed staff members without masks and other protective gear. On May 4, Regina was transferred to a hospital where a COVID-19 diagnosis was confirmed, and she died of the virus the same day.
Levin & Perconti is representing her family in a suit which Tower Hill Healthcare tried to get thrown out. We allege willful and wanton violations and negligence by the nursing home. Tower Hill had failed to follow guidance from the CMS and CDC to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, failed to provide its staff with PPE, didn’t promptly test Regina for COVID-19 despite knowing that she was ill, and failed to isolate her or provide her with PPE. Tower Hill argued that the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act granted them full immunity in this situation. However, the PREP act does not simply exempt nursing homes from being held accountable for neglect. A judge ruled that “the PREP Act does not apply to the conduct alleged in the complaint” filed by Regina’s son-in-law and Levin & Perconti.
Regina was one of 29 residents who died of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic at this facility. Tower Hill Healthcare Center was woefully unprepared to address infectious diseases and too understaffed to provide their residents with adequate care.
Westchester Health and Rehabilitation Center
Levin & Perconti was victorious in another Federal Court Case regarding filed wrongful death cases against Westchester Health and Rehab Center. Levin & Perconti has four COVID-19 related cases filed against the facility. One of the residents who died, Rita Saunders, showed increasingly severe symptoms of the virus over the span of 10 days until she was finally taken to a hospital, where she died shortly after. Her cause of death was COVID-19 she had contracted at Westchester. Not only were resident symptoms disregarded, staff members with symptoms were pressured to come to work, in flagrant violation of the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act. During her time at the nursing home, Rita also suffered from falls and bed sores, two injuries which are considered hallmarks of nursing home neglect. Again, a judge ruled that the COVID-19 immunity order does not preclude the Plaintiffs from pursuing their lawsuit for COVID deaths against the nursing home. It was further noted that the complaint was not dismissed because Levin & Perconti plausibly alleged willful misconduct.
In addition, the single facility with the highest number of confirmed resident COVID-19 cases is Niles Nursing and Rehab Center, according to the IDPH. They recorded 224 confirmed cases throughout the duration of the pandemic, and 49 deaths. The facility with the most COVID-19 related deaths is Landmark of Richton Park, where 113 residents tragically lost their lives to COVID-19 – a massive and preventable loss within that community.
The families of the 7747 Illinois nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 are experiencing a particular kind of grief. In many cases, they weren’t able to see their loved one before they passed. They received conflicting reports about COVID-19 developments and their loved one’s health. Often, family members weren’t even made aware that COVID-19 was present in their loved one’s facility until dozens were infected. The pain and guilt experienced by these families cannot be discounted. They entrusted our healthcare system to care for their mothers, father, grandparents, siblings, and children, and were sorely let down.
The following are just some Illinois nursing homes whose residents were heavily impacted by COVID-19:
|Facility Name||Resident Cases||Resident Deaths|
|Alden Poplar Creek Rehab||184||36|
|Aperion Care Elgin||55||61|
|Aperion Care International||152||34|
|Aperion Care Marseilles||81||38|
|BRIA of River Oaks||204||3|
|BRIA of Westmont||224||17|
|Generations at Regency||211||39|
|Landmark of Richton Park||126||113|
|Midway Neurological/Rehab Center||197||19|
|Niles Nursing and Rehab||224||49|
|Peterson Park Healthcare Center||218||32|
|ProMedica/ManorCare Elk Grove||137||50|
|River Crossing of Alton||191||44|
|River View Rehab Center||205||36|
|St James Wellness Rehab Villas||123||42|
|Symphony of South Shore||221||33|
|The Carlton at the Lake||186||13|
|The Citadel of Skokie||156||40|
|The Grove at the Lake||43||86|
|The Grove of Skokie||84||72|
|West Suburban Nursing and Rehab||212||15|
|Woodbridge Nursing Pavilion||199||36|
All Data was reported by the nursing homes to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Is Enough Being Done?
After the vaccine rollout began in January 2021, deaths of nursing home residents plummeted. Nursing home residents make up less than 1% of Illinoisans, but in May of 2020, approximately 60% of all Illinois residents who died of COVID-19 were those living in long-term care facilities. By May of 2021, after vaccines were made available, that number dropped to about 10%. The exact percentage of COVID-19 deaths happening in nursing homes continues to fluctuate, but has stayed low as vaccines have proved effective at reducing the severity of COVID-19 infections. Despite this strong evidence of vaccine efficacy, many nursing home staff members across Illinois have yet to get vaccinated.
Vaccination is only a piece of the puzzle. Regardless of the availability of vaccines, nursing homes need to be able to effectively handle infectious diseases of all kinds. Basic hygiene and proper nursing practices should be strictly adhered to at all times. A lack of staff, leadership, or resources is not an excuse for neglect.
“For years, nursing home owners have understaffed and under resourced their facilities putting profits over people,” said Levin & Perconti Partner Margaret Battersby Black. “During COVID these flaws were exposed, unfortunately at the expense of the vulnerable ill and elderly population in nursing homes. Now these owners need to be held accountable.”
Worryingly, the rates of other types of injuries at nursing homes have increased since the start of the pandemic. According to one report, serious injuries related to falls were up 17% and pressure ulcers saw a jump of 40% in the second quarter of 2020. Experts believe the increased and sustained strain on our healthcare system is partly to blame.
Our Attorneys are Taking Action
Levin & Perconti is working hard to make sure the families affected by this systemic unpreparedness and neglect get justice. Private nursing home owners have continued turning profits while residents lose their dignity and their lives in substandard facilities. Our law firm has the experience and resources to investigate claims and are currently standing up to violators who choose not to protect residents and staff from harm caused by COVID-19 and other types of nursing home abuse and neglect.
Levin & Perconti is one of the most highly respected nursing home abuse law firms in the country. We have recovered over $500 million in settlements and verdicts on behalf of our clients in nursing home matters alone. If you have a loved one who has been injured or died as a result of nursing home abuse and neglect, you need a lawyer who will fight to hold the responsible parties accountable. Contact Levin & Perconti today for a free consultation.
- More than $660 million in total client compensations
- Over $160 million in nursing home verdicts and settlements
- Achieved a record-setting $3 million bed sore settlement for an Illinois family
- On the nation’s best lawyer lists, including the Illinois Top 100 and Best Lawyers in America