Dennis Williams, from Lapeer, MI, was shocked when he went to visit his mother at Villages of Lapeer Nursing & Rehabilitation, an 87-bed facility, earlier this year. Unable to step inside, he remembers seeing his elderly mother, Wanda Parker, through the window back in April. At the time, he says she was begging for help. That was the last time he saw his 68-year-old mother alive.
Now Williams, his stepfather, and brother, as well as three former employees, all certified nursing assistants, are suing the facility for negligence and failure to adhere to the latest safety regulations. They allege that the facility consciously put residents and staff in danger by refusing to let providers and caretakers wear PPE on the job. One nurse even says her supervisor ripped her mask off her face in the middle of her shift.
This is the latest nursing home facility to face public scrutiny. Find out what happened at Villages of Lapeer Nursing & Rehabilitation and how things went so horribly awry.
Three Lawsuits Against One Nursing Home
According to the Detroit Free Press, three lawsuits were filed in Lapeer County Circuit Court in June against Davis & Davis Management Group, the LLC that owns the Villages of Lapeer Nursing & Rehabilitation.
- Williams Remembers His Mother
Dennis Williams and his family members are outraged over the death of their mother. She died two days after she was transported to a hospital from the Villages of Lapeer Nursing & Rehabilitation. They weren’t allowed inside the facility where their mother was being treated. He says he could see staff members through the window not wearing face masks, gloves, and other PPE.
Nursing homes have become magnets for the coronavirus in recent months. As of now, 19 residents of the facility have died from the virus, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. That represents more than half of the 34 COVID-19 deaths in Lapeer County to date.
Williams says he even talked to some of the staff at the facility about what was going on inside. He says several employees told him that they weren’t allowed to wear PPE on the job. Williams is now seeking more than one million dollars in damages related to the loss of his mother.
- Nurses Want Justice
Taylor Minifield and Tasha Harden, two former employees of the facility, are also suing for negligence. They are seeking upwards of one million dollars in damages for what they see as harmful working practices. They say their employer refused to let them wear PPE on the job. However, Minifield says she saw face masks and other PPE go in and out of the director of nursing’s office, but she never took them out or distributed them among the staff.
The facility posted on Facebook in late March, thanking the local community for donating homemade face masks and N95 masks, but Minifield says she never got them.
Commenting on the situation, Harden recalls, “She kept ‘em in there. She never brought ‘em out. I asked her in the hallway, like, can we bring in donated masks, and she said, ‘Oh yeah, I have a lot of them in my office. I’ve got them for emergency purposes only.’ I’m still confused what was considered an emergency, (because) that was an emergency.”
Both Harden and Minifield say they weren’t allowed to wear PPE because it would “scare the residents.” Minifield says the director of nursing ripped off her face mask in the middle of her shift. “She told me, ‘You have to take it off.’ She ripped it off my face and threw it right into, we have a trash can on our nurse’s cart, and threw it right in there, and walked off and didn’t care. And she told me, ‘If you have something to say, you can leave my building.'”
Jim Rasor, one of their attorneys, says, “When you rip the face mask off of a person…that’s active, that’s intentional, that’s reckless. This is not just a screw-up. This is not a mistake. This is actively, recklessly putting people in a horrible or deadly disease.”
For Minifield, the fight is personal. In addition to taking care of residents, she was looking after her mother at home, who was being treated for cancer at the time. She tried to wear a face mask to work to protect herself and her mother from the virus, but she was told she couldn’t wear one at work.
Several employees started showing signs of COVID-19, but the director of nursing refused to test residents for the virus “because they could not possibly have it,” according to the lawsuit.
Minified even arrived at the facility with symptoms and was told she had to work unless she had a fever. She was quickly diagnosed with the virus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. Harden also tested positive in early April, and so did her daughter, who was ultimately hospitalized as a result.
Johnson, another former employee, is suing the facility for $250,000 in damages. She says she also showed up to work with symptoms and was told she had to continue with her shift unless she had a fever. As her condition worsened, she was eventually sent home. However, she contends that she was so sick she couldn’t even drive home. She had to pull over and call 9-1-1 for an ambulance.
Regulators Swoop In
The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs surveyed the Villages of Lapeer Nursing & Rehabilitation in early April and reached similar conclusions. In a lengthy report, the state declared the facility put residents and staff in “immediate jeopardy.”
The facility then took several measures to remove the “immediate jeopardy” warning. The report states the warning was abated on April 7 based on observation via virtual tour of the facility staff wearing the proper PPE, including protective facial masks, while interacting and caring for residents. However, these changes didn’t go far enough.
“Although the Immediate Jeopardy was removed on 4/7/20, the facility remained out of compliance at scope and severity for potential for more than minimum harm pending the facility’s ability to sustain compliance as verified by the State Agency.”
For Williams, no amount of money will ever replace his mother. He’s still haunted by the memory of seeing her pleading for help. “All I hear is my mom saying, ‘Please help me,’ the last time I saw her through the window. Over and over again,” he said. Hopefully, these plaintiffs will get the justice they deserve.