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Families of Life Care residents call for better communication, staff support

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KIRKLAND, Wash. -- The number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Washington state jumped from 39 to 70 on Thursday. That includes 11 deaths, most of which are linked to the Life Care nursing facility in Kirkland.

On Thursday, family members of people treated there held a press conference demanding more support for the Life Care staff and better communication.

One woman, Pat Herrick, said her mother, Elaine Herrick, lived at Life Care for seven years before she died Thursday. She had not been tested for COVID-19 despite the outbreak, and it wasn’t clear whether officials could or would have her body tested, so it remained unclear why she died, her daughter said.

Herrick said that after receiving a 3:30 a.m. call informing her of her mother’s death, she then received another call from someone else hours later saying her mother was alive and doing well. It turned out the overwhelmed nurse who called earlier had failed to update her mother’s chart to reflect her death, Herrick said.

"[The woman who called me] was shocked and regretful and apparently the nurse that [called first], she was swamped," Herrick said. "She was giving meds, she was doing temperatures, she was trying to deal with the coroner and everybody else to help get my mom out and she somehow neglected to get all the information in the chart."

The President of Life Care Centers of America, which operates the Kirkland center, said the staff members are so busy that employees at the company's headquarters in Tennessee are calling families on a daily basis. He says the Tennessee employees read the information entered by a nurse in Kirkland, and that in this case the computer file was not updated to say the patient had died.

"From the moment I heard it I was very, very disturbed that would happen to one of our residents and family member," said Life Care President Beecher Hunter. "So I called the daughter of the woman who passed away to tell her how profoundly sorry I was that this had occurred... We had a very nice conversation and I said over and over again how sorry I was. But I also told her that her experience would allow us to keep this from happening again."

Elaine Herrick loved living at Life Care, her daughter said, and she didn’t blame the staff for what happened, saying the facility needs more support from health officials.

Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law lives at the facility, was less diplomatic but agreed the nursing home is not receiving enough help.

"While we believe that the Life Care Center has been ineffective, we do not believe they are to blame," said Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law is at the facility. "They should never have been left to deal with this outbreak unsupported."

The Associated Press contributed to this report 

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