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AG launches probe of Littleton nursing home

16 residents, 1 nurse, have died at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley

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 stand in front of Life Care Center in protective suits in early April.  (SUN/Julia Malakie)
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 stand in front of Life Care Center in protective suits in early April. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

LITTLETON — Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office announced it is investigating the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, a Littleton nursing home where 24 residents and one staff member have died of COVID-19. The probe comes in the wake of several calls for such an investigation and increased oversight at nursing homes statewide.

“My office is investigating Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility to determine if legal action is warranted,” Healey said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “We owe it to the families who lost loved ones under these tragic circumstances to determine what went wrong.”

The probe has been active and ongoing since April, but the office rarely makes public comment confirming investigations, especially initially. Healey’s statement contained no allegations of wrongdoing against the center, or its parent company, the Life Care Centers of America.

Healey’s office had already announced it is also investigating the Holyoke Soldier’s Home and its response to COVID-19 after over 70 veteran residents there died of COVID-19. Healey’s office has legal authority to investigate both civil and criminal violations of law at such facilities.

U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Westford, quickly applauded the announcement. Trahan has called for a probe at the facility before, and worked closely with a whistleblower from the facility, nurse Maria Krier, of Lunenburg, before Krier died of COVID-19.

“Life Care Centers of America knew how contagious and lethal this virus was when the first outbreak hit their Kirkland, Washington, facility back in February. Nevertheless, over two months later, more than 20 residents and health care workers at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley have died and dozens have tested positive,” Trahan said in a prepared statement. “Worse yet, each of their 12 facilities in Massachusetts has reported more than 30 COVID-19 positive cases and half are presently not in adherence with the Department of Public Health’s latest Clinical Audit.”

“At a time when Mitch McConnell is attempting to provide companies like Life Care with blanket immunity for any wrongdoing, I’m grateful to Attorney General Healey for her commitment to holding negligent corporations accountable,” Trahan said.

Zo Long, a division vice president for Life Care Centers of America, said the company is cooperating with the probe, which will show the company did its best.

“We are cooperating with the Attorney General, and we believe that documentation provided to the Attorney General will show how our team appropriately responded to a national crisis no one was prepared for,” Long said in a prepared statement. “The residents at Nashoba Valley were entrusted to Life Care and have received quality care each day since the pandemic began, and they will continue to be our focus moving forward.”

The company also released an update on how things are going at the facility, where all current residents have now recovered.

In a prepared statement, the company said that, as of Wednesday, out of 64 residents currently in the facility, 53 are considered recovered from COVID-19 per Centers for Disease Control guidelines, and that the other 13 residents have tested negative for the illness.

“The past several weeks have been hard for our facility, city, state and country. We thank our associates for their consistent heroic work as we have fought this terrible virus,” Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley said in an unsigned statement released Wednesday. “Our associates are also all in the recovery phase and many have returned to work after meeting CDC guidelines for returning to work after COVID-19.”

In late April, Trahan, along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Ed Markey, called for increased federal oversight of the Littleton facility and other nursing homes from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The legislators sent a letter to CMS in an effort to “do everything we can at the federal level to prevent another situation like what happened in Littleton,” Trahan said in late April, when 16 residents and a nurse from the center had already died, prompting the National Guard to send soldiers to test all residents.

In early April, Trahan, as well as state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, state Rep. James Arciero and the Littleton Board of Selectmen sent a letter urging 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.”

That letter prompted more frequent meetings between officials at the center and Littleton officials, but Trahan was still angry that such a step was ever needed.

“They seem now to be taking proper precautions to prevent, you know, further spread of COVID-19, but it never should have (gotten) to that point,” Trahan said in April.

Later in April, Life Care Certified Nursing Assistant Crystal Cunneen told reporters that staff members were not being tested for COVID-19. She said that when she tried to call out from her shift out of concern she may have contracted the virus, she said her boss hung up on her.

On April 10, Krier, a 59-year-old nurse at the facility, died of COVID-19.

Trahan said she, local health officials and elected representatives had to “cobble together” reports from area hospitals and firefighters to “learn of the severity of the problem” at Life Care.

Healey’s office did not announce any details of the investigation, or provide any timeline for when it might be complete.

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