Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Improperly sanitized medical equipment, staff members not wearing masks and residents not being properly quarantined led to dozens of deaths from COVID-19 at a Farmington nursing home, according to a slew of lawsuits.
The Life Care Center of Farmington is facing 24 wrongful death lawsuits filed in recent months by the estates of residents who contracted COVID-19 and died in April or May. The lawsuits were initially filed in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, but most have since been moved to federal court.
A total of 48 residents at the Life Care Center of Farmington have died from COVID-19, according to statistics from the state Department of Health.
Life Care Center of Farmington said in a statement from one of its attorneys that it is heartbroken over the deaths.
“While we cannot speak specifically about pending litigation, we can say that Life Care Center of Farmington remains committed to its residents, and we will vigorously defend ourselves and the actions of our associates as these lawsuits progress,” attorney Jeff Croasdell said in the statement. “Our hearts remain broken over the loss of residents to COVID-19, and it is our hope that the vaccine will be a turning point for all of us in the fight against this horrible virus.”
Nursing homes around the state have been hit hard by the pandemic. According to the Department of Health, as of Dec. 21, a total of 594 residents at long-term care facilities statewide had died from COVID-19, which accounts for more than a quarter of all of New Mexico’s COVID-19 deaths. Five nursing home staff members around New Mexico have also died from COVID-19.
All 24 lawsuits, filed by Albuquerque law firms Fadduol, Cluff, Hardy & Conaway and Whitener Law, make similar allegations. Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not respond to messages from the Journal.
The lawsuits did not provide ages for the patients who died.
The lawsuits also name nursing home executive director Phillip Nickse and Life Care Centers of America, the facility’s corporate owner, as defendants.
According to the lawsuits:
Life Care Centers of America had a COVID-19 outbreak at its Kirkland, Washington, facility in March, before the disease reached the Farmington location.
“Despite the advance notice, neither Life Care Center of America nor Life Care Center of Farmington did anything to institute an appropriate facility plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the lawsuits allege.
When the facility got its first COVID-19 case, medical equipment such as stethoscopes and blood pressure monitors were not sterilized, and staff members did not initially wear masks.
“Nickse held a meeting and specifically instructed staff not to wear face masks because he did not want the residents to be frightened of COVID-19,” the suits say.
Staff members were then required to wear masks several days in a row without re-sterilization between shifts and were instructed to reuse nursing gowns. Employees who had COVID-19 symptoms were required to keep working.
Life Care Center of Farmington reached out to its corporate office to ask for additional staffing, but corporate said there was not enough money.
“Additionally, as a result of the short staffing, nurses would be assigned to the COVID-19 unit for a single day, but then would be reassigned to other units in the Life Care Center of Farmington, which resulted in an increased spread of COVID-19 throughout the nursing home,” the lawsuits allege.
Residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were quarantined, but the same HVAC system was used for quarantined and non-quarantined residents.
The lawsuits seek compensatory and punitive damages.