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)
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LITTLETON — A nurse at the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley — described by the district’s congresswoman as one of the first to speak out about the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility — has died as a result of the virus.

The news of nurse Maria Krier’s death comes less than 48 hours after Life Care Center of America announced five more residents at the Littleton nursing home died from COVID-19, bringing the death toll at the facility to 10 residents.

U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan issued a statement on Saturday describing Krier as a “hero in our community” for speaking out about she called questionable practices by the Littleton nursing home amid the pandemic.

“Maria showed tremendous courage when she blew the whistle on the outbreak at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley,” Trahan said in a press release. “Her urgent concern for her fellow nurses and the residents at the facility is a testament to her character and the values that she held.

“We owe it to Maria and to all those that have passed away from COVID-19 at LCC-NV to demand more from the leadership of Life Care,” she continued. “Transparency is paramount during this pandemic, and the health care workers who show up each day along with the families of those still at the facility deserve to know that Life Care is doing everything they can to stop the spread of this virus and prevent additional losses of life.”

Life Care Centers of America — the parent company of the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley — issued a press release about the nurse’s death on Saturday. The company did not identify the name of the nurse in the release. They did state she had been with the company “for only a short time” and became sick two weeks ago.

“We were notified she tested positive for COVID-10 and will not release further details out of respect for her family during this time of sorrow,” the release states.

As of Saturday LCCA said 75 of its original 204 employees at the Littleton nursing home are out sick. Of the 75 sick employees, 14 tested positive for the virus and another 17 are out with orders from doctors.

The Littleton nursing home has brought in additional staff from other facilities, but the drop in the level of staffing has increased pressure on the facility.

“Our nurses and front-line workers are the heroes in the fight against this unprecedented outbreak,” Kate O’Connor, Life Care’s regional vice president, said in Saturday’s release. “We are fighting a virus that is still largely unknown, and our nurses and staff continue to provide the best care given the guidance we have received from both federal and local health agencies.”

Saturday’s release also states Life Care officials are asking all staff members be tested for the virus. To date, testing had been limited in order to prioritize the most vulnerable residents of the state, according to the release.

Last week, the National Guard completed full testing of all residents within the facility. Life Care officials announced on Friday that of the Littleton facility’s 75 current residents, 54 tested positive for the virus since March 27. Of that total, 41 residents remain on site, while 13 are being treated at area hospitals.

In total, 67 residents of the Littleton nursing home tested positive for COVID-19.

Life Care Centers of Nashoba Valley was questioned publicly on April 1, when town 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. A few days later, the Littleton Board of Selectmen, along with local elected representatives sent a letter to Life Care Centers of America President Beecher Hunter calling for transparency.

In the letter, selectmen, Trahan, state Sen. Jamie Eldridge and state Rep. James Arciero, of Westford, urged 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.”

In a response to the letter, Hunter wrote in a statement on Wednesday: “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. … This is a learning experience for all of us.”

Littleton Board of Selectmen Co-Chair Cindy Napoli said on Thursday since the letter the level of transparency by has increased at the Littleton facility.

According to the LCCA website, they operate more than 200 skilled nursing, rehabilitation, Alzheimer’s and senior living campuses in 28 states, including one in Billerica, Acton and Leominster.

LCCA also operates Life Care Centers in Kirkland, Washington, which is linked to at least 37 deaths stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak. The Kirkland facility became the first nursing center in the nation to report the presence of the virus.

Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis