Firm plans to sue Suwannee nursing home over COVID-19 outbreak

Published: May. 14, 2020 at 12:32 PM EDT
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By: Amber Spradley | WCTV Eyewitness News

May 14, 2020

LIVE OAK, Fla. (WCTV) – Attorneys with Morgan & Morgan announced Thursday they plan to sue two Florida nursing homes on behalf of families whose loved ones have contracted COVID-19 in the facilities and died.

Those two facilities include Suwannee Health and Rehabilitation Center in Live Oak and Opis Coquina Center in Ormond Beach.

Nearly 70 residents have contracted the coronavirus at Suwannee Health and Rehab, according to Alexander Clem, one of the two attorneys taking on the cases.

The Department of Health reports, as of Thursday, 18 residents there have died from the virus.

Suwannee Health and Rehab representatives tell us they've taken every precaution in the wake of the crisis, but lawyers and some families disagree.

The firm is in a presuit screening period: A 75-day investigation period in which attorneys spend speaking with residents, family members, staff and other community members involved to validate claims made.

"When you're aware of an infection that is taking hold and spreading down the halls, through the wings and throughout an entire facility, and you do nothing about it, well, that goes beyond just common negligence,” Clem said in a teleconference Thursday.

He mentions some of the things they have uncovered during presuit at Suwannee Health and Rehab include workers concealing patients’ fevered temperatures and putting ice packs on their heads, management advising staff not to get tested for the virus and residents with COVID-19 kept and treated inside the facility often instead of being transported elsewhere.

"I know there's a former employee, a former certified nursing assistant, who quit that facility because she just said, 'They're not gonna protect me. They're not gonna protect the residents. I'm out. I’m done',” Clem said.

That employee was Brandy Kinsey.

She first shared

, just days after quitting her job at the facility.

She now tells us Thursday:

""There was plenty of us that said 'Hey, this person doesn't sound right, they need to be checked and seen and made sure they don't have this virus', and they wouldn't take them to be tested or they would refuse to get them tested.""

However, in mid-April,

, telling WCTV the facility uses state and federal guidelines for temperature reporting and reacted appropriately when caring for sick residents.

Tom Nutter’s mother, Jean Louise Bean, was a resident at Suwannee Health and Rehab.

Tom and his wife, Terri, shared their story with WCTV on April 15, after losing their loved one to coronavirus.

“I want to find out about getting my mother’s valuables because nobody's even bothered to call me and tell me she's passed,” Tom said over the phone to the facility back in April.

He tells WCTV his mother was transported from the facility to a hospital in Gainesville on Friday, April 10. He and Terri say management assured them it was “not COVID-related”.

Her COVID-19 test results came back positive Saturday morning, and she was induced into a coma and intubated. She passed on Sunday, April 12.

“I would like the administration held accountable for my mom's death,” Tom told WCTV.

In response to the potential lawsuit, a representative from Florida Health Care Association tells WCTV:

""From Day One of this COVID-19 crisis, Florida’s nursing centers have been on the front line of keeping their residents safe. It's unfortunate that while our caregivers work tirelessly to protect residents and create supportive environments, trial lawyers are already positioning themselves to profit from this tragic situation by organizing individual tort actions. With Florida still in the midst of this crisis, today's announcement of a lawsuit, before any actual facts have been established, is a perfect example of that.""

Another Morgan & Morgan attorney filing suit is Matt Morgan.

"We believe that if we leave, we are the last line of defense to those that are sitting in these facilities,” he said.

WCTV reached out to both Suwannee Health and Rehabilitation Center and the firm representing them. We have not heard back yet.

Copyright 2020 WCTV. All rights reserved.

By: Edan Schultz | WCTV Eyewitness News

May 14, 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. (WCTV) — A prominent Florida law firm intends to sue two nursing homes,

in Live Oak, alleging mishandling of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Morgan & Morgan attorneys Matt Morgan and Alexander Clem announced their plans in a teleconference from Orlando Thursday morning. They say several families whose loved ones died from COVID-19 have retained the firm.

The lawyers say they've uncovered evidence of negligence at the nursing home, along with conscious disregard for the safety and health of the people there.

The firm is in a pre-lawsuit screening period right now, investigating the claims and talking to families, nurses and other staff, according to the attorneys.

WCTV has reached out to a manager who oversees the facility and the public relations firm representing Suwannee Health & Rehab for comment on the pending lawsuit. We have yet to hear back.

reports 18 residents of Suwannee Health & Rehab have died from COVID-19, and 30 other residents who remain at the home are positive, along with four staff.

Last month,

who alleged managers were not taking proper precautions to prevent spread of coronavirus. The workers alleged managers told employees not to record temperatures in the computer if residents had a fever, told staff they could not catch the virus from working there, and discouraged them from being tested.

, a manager with the company that owns Suwannee Health & Rehab defended the center's actions, saying management was "taking every precaution" to prevent the spread of coronavirus and training staff to handle the crisis.

Copyright 2020 WCTV. All rights reserved.