“I’ve been a nurse for 20 years. I’ve never seen an illness [work] the way this disease works,” says a nurse currently employed at the Kirkland facility. “It’s all unprecedented. We are the landlocked cruise ships.” This nurse says the staff has been doing everything they can to remain virus-free, and to prepare for “the new normal.” She still hasn’t been tested for the virus, however, since she doesn’t have any symptoms. The Kirkland location had 108 residents before the outbreak and is now down to 32 patients, due to deaths, infected individuals being transferred to hospitals and residents being discharged.
In early April, a nurse named Maria Krier spoke out about the conditions at the Littleton, Massachusetts, Life Care Centers of America (LCCA) facility and accused the company of negligence during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a local news report. Krier, 59, died from COVID-19 reportedly on April 10, 2020, shortly after making her remarks. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of one of our own associates. Our sympathy goes out to her family and all of those who are close to her. If you need to talk, we are here for you. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family,” the company said in a message to employees that was reviewed by Forbes.
The industry blames others. The virus’ entry into long-term care facilities was inevitable, according to the American Health Care Association, which represents over 14,000 nonprofit organizations, including nursing centers and assisted living communities. Yet the devastating effects of the virus are exacerbated by long-term care providers not having adequate access to testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) or staffing. “Just like hospitals, we have called for help. In our case, nobody has listened,” a spokesperson for the AHCA tells Forbes.
LCCA is the biggest privately owned chain of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the country and the only one in the U.S. to have minted a billionaire. The $3.2 billion (2018 sales) company is entirely owned by Tennessee billionaire Forrest Preston, who built it from scratch over the last half-century. The 87-year-old businessman, worth $1.7 billion, is LCCA’s chief executive; his longtime aide Beecher Hunter is the president and the public face of the company. Neither Preston nor Hunter responded to Forbes’ requests for an interview, but nearly half a dozen people who have spent time inside LCCA facilities during the coronavirus crisis did.
It now runs nursing homes as well as assisted living facilities and retirement living communities in 28 states. The company drew notice in 2016, when it agreed to pay a $145 million settlement with the Department of Justice for Medicare fraud. The federal government alleged that LCCA had provided unreasonable and unnecessary therapy to its clients as well as longer-than-needed therapies regardless of the therapists’ suggestions to end treatment.