KALISPELL — A lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Flathead County District Court on behalf of families whose loved ones passed away from COVID-19 at the Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation Center.
A complaint filed by McGarvey Law on behalf of the families of Alton Johnson, Berton Pew and Stanley Webber alleged residents "unnecessarily contracted or died of COVID-19; experienced unnecessary complications related to COVID-19; or were neglected, abused, malnourished or otherwise mistreated under the guise of “COVID-19 precautions” as a result of the negligent management and business practices.”
Whitefish Care and Rehab Center has seen more than a dozen resident deaths related to COVID-19 since an outbreak occurred at the facility in mid-August, including the lives of Johnson, Pew and Webber.
Whitefish Care and Rehab, parent company Sweetwater Whitefish Opco and Whitefish Care and Rehab Executive Director Reid Crickmore were all named as defendants in the case.
McGarvey Law of Kalispell and Heenan and Cook of Billings filed the lawsuit and the demand for a jury trial.
McGarvey Law Senior Attorney Roger Sullivan said the lawsuit includes seven counts including negligence and wrongful death.
“And so, what we’re seeking to do is to hold the defendants responsible for their actions and also to make an example of their conduct such that neither these defendants or other similarly situated entitles in the future, would be deterred from allowing this to happen again,” Sullivan told MTN News.
A Focus control survey conducted by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human services on August 31, showed staff members were rooming presumptive COVID-19 positive residents with COVID-19 negative residents.
The report also said staff were entering COVID-19 positive resident rooms without proper PPE and staff at the facility were not attempting to assist with maintaining social distancing for all residents.
Crickmore responded to MTN News by email about the lawsuit saying:
"The safety and welfare of our residents are always our top priorities. It is important to remember that this invisible virus called Covid-19 has never happened before. As part of our facility’s commitment to protecting residents, families, and staff from serious illness or complications related to Covid-19, we have from the beginning of this pandemic followed guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). We have brought on outside professional help to work with us to keep residents and staff safe. We are saddened and have compassion for the residents and families who have been impacted by the spread of Covid-19 in our communities and are continually committed to providing a safe place for our residents to live and our employees to work."
Sullivan said the law firm are still in their discovery phase gathering documents and information from potential witnesses.