Two local care facilities where dozens died from virus didn’t protect residents, feds say

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Two Kansas nursing homes where a combined 57 people died from the coronavirus failed to follow basic guidelines to protect their elderly residents, placing them in “immediate jeopardy,” according to a federal investigation. 

Thirty six people have died at Riverbend Post Acute Care Facility in Kansas City, Kansas, and another 21 people have died at Brighton Gardens in Prairie Village. Both were the focus of federal investigations by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

At Riverbend, federal inspectors found, among other things, that multiple employees were allowed to keep working even after they showed signs of possible COVID-19 infection and had been in contact with people who had tested positive for the virus.

According to the report, a licensed practical nurse who tested positive for the virus on April 12 returned to work the following day and continued working for three more days.

Another Riverbend employee was allowed to continue working even after informing management that she wasn’t feeling well and was displaying signs of COVID-19. She later tested positive.

“They weren’t insuring that there were healthy people working, and they weren’t insuring that they were putting the patients’ first,” said attorney Rachel Stahle, who’s representing more than 10 families who lost loved ones at the two nursing homes.

Riverbend Post Acute

A federal judge ruled this month that Riverbend’s parent company, Big Blue Healthcare, could not claim immunity in those cases. 

Stahle said none of the families she’s representing have seen the federal report, but it confirms what most long feared. 

“The families are horrified,” Stahle said. “They are horrified that this happened. They are horrified that they thought their family member was in a place that was safe for them, and that was not the case.”

The federal report detailed how Riverbend residents who tested positive for the virus were not required to wear masks or even stay inside their rooms — even though both protocols were recommended by federal guidelines.

Riverbend staff told investigators that they made the decision after consulting with Wyandotte County’s health department. However, the county health department said that’s not the advice they gave.

“Based on what was noted in the HHS report, it unfortunately looks like some of the public health guidance that was provided, such as proper PPE usage among staff, did not always play out in practice,” said Janell Friesen with the Wyandotte County Public Health Department. 

Riverbend’s administrator told federal investigators that he believed the number of people who died from the virus might be far higher than the 36 reported. He said many other residents died from symptoms of COVID-19 but were never tested and therefore never included in the final tally.

Riverbend never responded to multiple requests from FOX4 for comment.

Brighton Gardens

There were equally serious but far fewer problems documented at Brighton Gardens in Prairie Village where 21 people died. 

According to the report, a nursing aide was allowed to work for two days even after showing signs of COVID-19. She and multiple elderly residents in her unit later tested positive.

Brighton Gardens sent us this statement:

“Brighton Gardens of Prairie Village immediately addressed the May deficiency, which was cleared by the surveyor the same day. We swiftly executed our actions including retraining all team members on screening protocols, repeating screening on each shift and fortifying plans to assess and cohort residents in our skilled neighborhood to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

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