‘A corporate failure’: Attorney for family that filed lawsuit says KCK facility didn’t do enough

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The family of an 87-year-old man who died from the coronavirus is now suing the local nursing home where he got sick.

So far, 119 people have been infected with COVID-19 at Riverbend Post Acute Care Center in Kansas City, Kansas, and 27 of them have died.

The eight-page lawsuit filed in Kansas state court spells out what family members of one Riverbend patient and their attorney call negligence. They insist if Riverbend followed basic steps, the virus could’ve been stopped in its tracks, saving lives.

Okey Long was 87, but still had life to live. He was recovering from a seizure at Riverbend’s rehab unit.

“He’d been there since February,” said Rachel Stahle, attorney with Dollar, Burns and Becker, who’s representing the Long family in court, “and to the family’s knowledge, he was improving.”

But that all changed three weeks ago.

“At the beginning of April, he began feeling bad. He went to KU and was diagnosed with COVID,” Stahle said.

Long didn’t make it. He died of COVID-19 on April 17.  

“It’s really devastating,” Stahle said.

And attorneys said that heartache is only made worse by what’s now coming to light.

The Wyandotte County Unified Government has published a report highlighting a staff member who came to work sick and without proper protective gear, exposing patients and sparking an outbreak.

“Let me be clear: This is a corporate failure. This is not a failure of somebody who is just an hourly worker. This goes all the way to the top,” Stahle said.

The lawsuit Stahle has now filed on behalf of the Long family alleges Riverbend “failed to inform them of a possible outbreak,” and they only learned about it “from the news.”

“Most families are not in this type of lawsuit for the money,” Stahle said. “It’s not about that. It’s about where did they fail and how do we ensure this doesn’t happen at another facility or at this facility again. It is more to enact change.”

Attorney John Rollins is working with more than 10 families who lost a loved one at Riverbend. The youngest patient who died was just 44 years old.

“There have even been a couple of circumstances where family members ended up being infected after having visited with their family members who were in the facility,” said Rollins, principal of Rollins Kavanaugh PC.

He said Riverbend, like all nursing homes, should’ve been strictly following federal guidelines to limit visitors, take employee temperatures and talk with them about symptoms, to stop vulnerable patients from getting the virus.

Riverbend is declining to comment on the lawsuit, but has 21 days to respond in court. A string of other lawsuits are expected in the coming days.

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