Family of Riverbend resident who died from virus files lawsuit

Okey Long
Posted at 12:06 PM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 14:59:16-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The family of a Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation resident who died from COVID-19 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility, alleging their family member contracted the virus because of negligent care and oversight.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Wyandotte County District Court, 87-year-old Okey Long was admitted into the facility in February, when he was already in “frail, defenseless and dependent condition.”

Long contracted COVID-19 while at the facility and died on April 17, according to the lawsuit.

Rachel Stahle, the family's attorney, said Long was at the facility for rehabilitation and should've made it home.

"He died in a way that was unnecessary," Stahle said. "Obviously, something went wrong at Riverbend."

His wife and daughter are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which says Long's family was not notified of a potential outbreak at the facility and learned about it from news reports.

The suit also alleges that Riverbend failed to provide its staff with proper personal protective equipment (PPE), did not separate those with symptoms from others in the facility and did not adhere to social distancing guidelines.

"On or before March 31, 2020, Riverbend knew or should have known the vital importance of ensuring COVID-19 did not enter or spread in its facility," the lawsuit reads. "This included monitoring both residents and staff for fever, cough and other symptoms of COVID-19 and adhering to social distancing guidelines."

The lawsuit cites evidence that the outbreak started because an employee may have reported to work while showing symptoms, a possibility raised by the Unified Government's chief medical officer.

It is the first lawsuit filed against the Kansas City, Kansas, facility, where 27 people have died and dozens more have tested positive for the virus.

As of Thursday morning, the deaths at Riverbend account for nearly a quarter of Kansas' 110 deaths from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.

John Rollins, a Kansas City attorney, said he's also in the process of filing a lawsuit against Riverbend on behalf of several families.

"The bottom line is, if the facility followed guidelines, none of this would've happened," Rollins said.

Riverbend and health officials in Wyandotte County said the outbreak likely started with an employee who worked at the facility while displaying symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever.

"Not only was he allowed to enter, he didn't have appropriate PPE [personal protection equipment] when he came into contact with other individuals within the facility," Rollins said.

Riverbend, according to Rolling, did not follow protocols that were put in place by Medicaid and Medicare Services that asked facilities to screen staff for symptoms beginning March 13.

The employee tested positive for COVID-19 on April 1.

"They weren't following these recommendations for two solid weeks," Rollins said.

One of the women who died at the facility, according to Rollins, was 44 years-old.

"She had a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and she died as a result of a COVID-19 infection that was sustained while she was at that facility," Rollins said.

When questioned about the allegations, Cory Schulte, executive director of Riverbend said, "Due to the recent public discussion of potential litigation against Riverbend, I think it prudent for me to discontinue responding to media requests."

Infection control surveyors with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were at the facility Wednesday to determine whether it is in compliance with infection control guidelines.