Failure to Care; Nursing Home Ravaged By Covid-19

Kathleen Escobar will never forget the day in November 2020 when COVID-19 hit the memory care center where her mother lived. 

An aide from Table Rock Memory Care in Medford called to tell Escobar three of the facility’s residents had COVID infections. The aide reassured her: Escobar’s 88-year-old mother, Peggy James, showed no signs of having COVID.

But the news alarmed Escobar. She lived a few minutes away — she could dash over and bring her mother home until the COVID outbreak at Table Rock ended. The Table Rock aide told her that wouldn’t be necessary. The residents with COVID had been isolated. Her mother was safe. 

“They acted like it was no big deal,” Escobar says. “They were very much like, ‘It’s all right. Don’t worry about it.’”

It wasn’t all right. Table Rock failed to contain the outbreak, and within days, the number of cases exploded from a few to 87. 

Three days after telling Escobar there was nothing to worry about, Table Rock called back to report her mother now had COVID. “My mother suffered terribly,” Escobar says. “She had no idea what was happening to her.” On Dec. 3, 2020, Peggy James died from pneumonia brought on by COVID.

Eventually, 19 people died in the COVID outbreak at Table Rock. Escobar says she still struggles with anger toward Table Rock for failing to protect its residents and guilt that she didn’t rescue her mother when she had the chance. 

“I think about it all the time,” she says now. “It was the worst mistake I ever made in my life.”

California’s Biggest Nursing Home Owner Faces Lawsuit over 24 COVID-Related Deaths

California’s largest nursing home owner, Shlomo Rechnitz, is facing a lawsuit alleging that one of his homes is responsible for the COVID-related deaths of some 24 elderly and dependent residents.

Rechnitz is the Los Angeles-based, multi-billionaire owner of Brius Healthcare, the largest nursing home company in California. In 1998, Rechnitz began his business career by selling supplies—such as latex gloves, adult diapers, and wheelchairs—to nursing homes with his twin brother, Steve. Together, they founded and operated TwinMed, LLC, and have grown it into a nation-wide distributor of medical supplies and services.

Brius owns two nursing homes in Santa Clara County, Cupertino Healthcare & Wellness Center and San Jose Healthcare & Wellness Center, plus five in Alameda County and one in Contra Costa County. Brius and affiliated companies own 81 skilled nursing facilities in California. Brius controls about one in every 14 nursing beds in the state.

Brius has repeatedly been fined, sued, and sanctioned by local, state, and federal agencies for providing substandard care to nursing home residents. According to the Sacramento Bee, Brius-owned nursing homes were “tagged with nearly triple as many serious deficiencies per 1,000 beds as the statewide average in 2014.” Families and residents have filed multiple lawsuits against Rechnitz and Brius for allegations including wrongful death and nursing home abuse. 

U.S. appeals court rules against nursing homes over COVID-19 lawsuits

The nursing homes had argued that the suits against them belonged in federal court, citing an emergency U.S. law known as the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which shields those fighting the pandemic from lawsuits.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia affirmed a lower court ruling and rejected the nursing homes’ argument that the PREP Act was so far reaching that families’ state-law negligence claims were really federal claims that belonged in federal court.

The families “asserted only garden-variety state-law claims, so state court is where these cases belong,” the court said.

Neil Lapinski, a Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella attorney who represented the families, said “the court has provided a clear roadmap for litigants” that was consistent with lower court rulings.

The cases were filed in state court in April 2020 by families of four residents who died of COVID-19.

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