'We demand answers.' Families connected to coronavirus-affected care center in Kirkland speak out
Family members said they've received little information from health officials on all levels during an emotional press conference outside the Life Care Center in Kirkland on Thursday.
Several residents of the senior living facility have fallen ill with COVID-19, which has killed a reported 11 in Washington state — nine connected with the nursing home.
“Most of us found out about this outbreak on the news,” said Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law lives at Life Care. “Even our loved ones were not told that there was COVID-19 outbreak ... they were specifically told it was a respiratory outbreak.”
Connolly said that families are demanding information about COVID-19 testing specific to their loved ones, rather than generalities.
“At no point were these people made available to us to answer our questions today," Connolly said. "No one from the CDC, or the health department has reached out to us and made themselves available for comment."
Connolly went on to criticize health officials’ decision to keep Life Care residents who may be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 in the same facility as those who might not be. He also expressed skepticism that residents were being properly quarantined, claiming that “they’re being loosely asked to stay in their rooms and they’re not doing it.”
King County health officer Jeff Duchin said the day prior that "it would be problematic to take people out of a facility where they’re stable and put them into a health care system that is already stressed with our flu season and other critically ill patients."
Duchin also said that health officials were operating under the assumption that anyone who's been at Life Care has been exposed to the coronavirus.
Connolly also had a message for Vice President Mike Pence, who is meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee this afternoon to discuss federal aid amid the coronavirus emergency.
"Come and stay with my father-in-law for an hour in this facility," Connolly said. "If it's that safe."
But Connolly said that he wasn’t angry with Life Care. Rather, he said he was “incredibly angry” with top level health officials. Others who spoke echoed Connolly's sentiments, saying that Life Care had taken good care of their loved ones leading up to the outbreak.
Pat Herrick, whose mother resided at Life Care for seven years and died early Thursday morning also spoke at the podium.
The last time Herrick spoke to her mother was on Sunday. Her mother told her she was depressed and couldn’t get out of her room. She had two roommates and one of them was coughing. Herrick was unable to reach her mother after that point.
Seven hours after being notified that her mother, Elaine, had died, Herrick said she was told by a Life Care representative that her mother was doing great: she had no fever and was showing no COVID-19 symptoms. Herrick alerted the representative of her mother’s death.
But despite the Life Care employee's snafu, Herrick expressed compassion for the woman.
"I've worked in healthcare, it's hard," Herrick said. "It's hard and this is even harder. So, please have some compassion for their humanity ... also, while asking that we get some support in a bigger way for all of this."
Families have also called into question the presence of a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that King County health officials said had been called in to help investigate and contain the COVID-19 outbreak at Life Care.
Emily Halvorson, media manager at Office of Governor Jay Inslee, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a team expected to arrive at the Life Care Center today, and that there had been federal health officials there prior to Thursday.