Local officials call for transparency from Life Care as COVID-19 cases mount

65 residents have tested positive, and 5 have died

Littleton Police stop unauthorized visitors at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, as National Guard members arrive to do Covid-19 testing. National Guard members (presumably) stand in front of Life Care Center in protective suits. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

LITTLETON — The Littleton Board of Selectmen and local elected representatives are calling for transparency at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley (LCC-NV), where 65 residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

Five nursing home patients have died of the virus, all of whom were hospitalized, Life Care announced on Tuesday. Twenty employees have called in sick.

In a letter sent Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, the Board of Selectmen, state Sen. Jamie Eldridge and state Rep. James Arciero urged Life Care Centers of America President Beecher Hunter to “immediately alert public health authorities of any confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 contamination within your network, including cases in which flu-like symptoms are exhibited.”

At the time the letter was sent, at least nine residents and eight staff members had tested positive for the virus. The nursing home’s first case was a resident who was transferred to a local hospital on March 27, according to Life Care.

“The numbers have… grown dramatically since we drafted the letter,” Trahan said in a phone interview. “Since learning about the horrific situation at Life Care, we now know… exactly how grim it is with these numbers,” she added.

The letter also urges Life Care to test any employees who worked there in March and April, including former staff. “These actions should be taken without delay to protect residents, staff, and their families,” the letter states.

On April 1, town health officials said Life Care failed to comply with “lawful and appropriate” instructions from the board of health after a patient and staff member tested positive for the virus. On April 3, National Guard members arrived at the center to test all residents.

As a result of the National Guard’s testing, 48 additional residents were confirmed with the virus, bringing the total to 65 positive residents. Fourteen of them are currently hospitalized, according to Life Care. The nursing home now houses 76 residents, 51 of whom have tested positive for the virus.

Crystal Cunneen, a certified nursing assistant at Life Care, told reporters on Friday that staff members were not being tested for the virus. She said that when she tried to call out from her shift that weekend out of fear she contracted the virus, her boss hung up on her.

On Tuesday, Cunneen said she doesn’t plan to return to work after learning “from the media” that 65 residents tested positive.  She also said that one of her fellow staff members tested positive for the virus and is currently on a ventilator.

Cunneen said that Life Care is not reporting staff members testing positive for the virus. She added that some Life Care staff members have quit due to the lack of communication, and that Life Care was “begging” them to come back, even offering them a pay raise.

On Wednesday, the grounds outside the nursing home were quiet. Patio chairs at the front entrance were all empty. Large red and blue letters stuck in the grass spelled out “heroes at work.”

“Of particular concern is the apparent lack of readiness or responsiveness to the COVID-19 threat, across the LCCA network,” the letter to Hunter states.

According to the letter, there have been 37 COVID-19-related deaths at a Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. “In that case, like the one at LCC-NV, the facility did not provide adequate notification to authorities,” the letter continues.

Trahan said she received a call from Hunter on Wednesday regarding the letter.

“We’re going to be monitoring this with the town to make sure that they (Life Care) are forthcoming and cooperating as he (Hunter) promised they would be,” Trahan said. “I think that we all know that our senior living centers are the hot spots that we need to be monitoring very closely…” she added later.

In a statement late Wednesday, Hunter wrote: “I thanked Representative Trahan for the letter. Life Care wants to know the concerns of the people and organizations in our communities in order to maintain good relationships… I apologized for the confusion in communications. It is never our intent to be less than transparent with government authorities at all levels – town, state or federal. We need and seek their support to be successful in achieving our mission and as a contributing member of the community’s continuum of health care. After all, everyone wants the same result: the highest possible care and service to the residents entrusted to us.

“My promise to Representative Trahan is that our facility will be a model of cooperation and communication with the Littleton Board of Health, as they represent their constituents, including our residents and staff,” Hunter continued. “This is a learning experience for all of us. We regard the protection, the care, and the love for our residents as a sacred trust. Their well-being is ourhighest priority. And we will make every effort to comply with all public health requirements.”

Hunter added that Life Care recently began regular meetings with Littleton officials and extended invitations to those legislators who signed the letter to join in those meetings.

There are 15 Life Care centers across Massachusetts, including one in Leominster, according to the company’s website.

“We urge you to immediately ensure that your facilities fully comply with all public health requirements and take extreme care in preventing further contamination. The families we represent have placed a sacred trust in your hands, and we expect that LCCA to honor its obligation to them,” the letter states.

“This is not a time to be sitting on information, much less hiding information. I mean, this is a time when we all have to work together… Sharing information is just paramount if we’re going to get through this,” Trahan said.

Jon Winkler contributed to this report.