Life Care fired staffer who revealed nursing home nightmare to Reuters

By Chris Kirkham
(Reuters) - A nursing home owned by Life Care Centers of America Inc. has fired a nurse and banished another from the premises after being quoted in a Reuters investigation, in which horrific conditions, an exodus of staff, and one were reported botched management response to the facility's fatal response have been described as Covid19 outbreak.
Life Care quit one of the nurses, Colleen Lelievre, last week after managers at the Littleton, Massachusetts home accused her of spelling narcotics for residents. She said she was not notified of any problems until June 12, two days after the Reuters report was released. Another nurse, Lisa Harmon, said a manager expelled her from the building the same day without explaining why.
"I don't know how they think they're just doing this openly and getting away with it," said Harmon, a manager.
The Reuters report included interviews with Lelievre and Harmon describing overworked and overworked staff. In one case, so many workers had quit or reported sick that managers assigned a teenage intern to a shift that looked after nearly 30 people with dementia, said Harmon and a former employee. Eighty to ninety hours a week became the norm, the two nurses said. In a dementia ward, workers were unable to prevent residents from wandering into other patients' hallways and rooms, which could lead to infection.
The two nurses also said that management had left the employees in the dark about the outbreak and had only carried out personnel tests in mid-May. 34 employees had carried out positive tests by the end of the month, as federal data show. 25 residents and a nurse died of COVID-19. (To read the special report, click on https://reut.rs/3dmYSQT.)
Facility manager Amy Lamontagne denied having released Lelievre after speaking to Reuters. Lamontagne said Harmon had not been fired, but the administrators wanted to meet with her to discuss the concerns raised in the article. Harmon said she hadn't been paid since she was banned from the facility.
Lamontagne said she quit Lelievre for "narcotics administration and documentation" errors. Lamontagne declined to explain the error in detail and refused to address why she only raised the issue with Lelievre after the Reuters article was published. She said the facility began investigating Lelievre two days before the article was published.
"The timing is bad," said Lamontagne.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General of Massachusetts, informed by Reuters about Life Care's actions against the nurses, said: "We take allegations of retaliation at work very seriously."
Spokeswoman Chloe Gotsis added that the attorney general is already reviewing the facility's crisis management: "We have an active and ongoing investigation into the response of the Life Care Center in the Nashoba Valley to the COVID 19 outbreak."
US representative Lori Trahan, who represents the Littleton region, said the nursing home had put its own interests above the safety of patients and staff.
"If the management of Life Care Centers of America had given residents and workers in their Littleton facility as much concern as their public image and self-preservation, life could have been saved," said Trahan. "Nefarious behavior, such as retaliation against whistleblowers, is often used to cover up misconduct."
Life Care is one of the largest nursing home operators in the United States with more than 200 homes. Company President Beecher Hunter did not respond to requests for comments. Company spokesman Tim Killian declined to comment on the alleged retaliation and did not answer questions about whether higher companies were or were known to direct the measures against the nurses.
Life Care also led one of the first and deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in the US at its nursing home in Kirkland, Washington - with 45 deaths related to the facility, local health officials said. (A story about the Kirkland eruption can be found at https://reut.rs/2AOqq4t)
In his investigation, Reuters interviewed several other workers and former home workers who also identified mismanagement, staff shortages and neglect in care. But Lelievre and Harmon were two of three current employees who agreed to have their names published, and both nurses were quoted more extensively than the third worker.
The facility never restricted Lelievre's access to drugs before she stopped working, Lelievre said. At the time of the alleged paperwork mistakes, Lelievre said, she worked 16 hours during the outbreak and 24 hours in one case because no one else could fill shifts.
Harmon, the nurse's supervisor, said that if paperwork errors during the outbreak are grounds for dismissal, then "every nurse in this building should be fired."
Harmon himself fell ill with COVID-19 during the outbreak and took advantage of 10 days of sick leave because the company did not offer additional paid days to workers who had the disease.
Lamontagne said Harmon had never addressed management personnel issues before speaking to Reuters, "although this is their oversight role to accomplish through a chain of command."
Harmon said she had raised concerns about staff shortages with Lamontagne and other administrators many times, and often told them that the home had no nursing staff at certain shifts.
"I asked for help all the time," said Harmon. "How much more do you need to know that the staff is terrible?"

(Reporting by Chris Kirkham; editing by Brian Thevenot)

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