By Associated Press - Wednesday, October 21, 2020

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - A long-term care facility in Montana has been sued after health officials said its staff was negligent and allowed the coronavirus to spread through the facility in Whitefish earlier this year.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the estates of three residents at Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation who died because of complications caused by COVID-19, the Missoulian reported.

The lawsuit represented the estates of Alton Johnson, Berton Pew and Stanley Webber, and argued that at least 13 people died at the facility because of the outbreak. The county had 23 coronavirus-related deaths.

The Heenan and Cook firm of Billings and McGarvey Law in Kalispell are representing each of the estates.

The lawsuit named the 100-bed long-term care facility and its administrator Reid Crickmore. Crickmore did not respond to an email or phone message from The Associated Press on Wednesday seeking comment.

Montana Public Radio reported that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a report in September saying the facility’s noncompliance had placed the health and safety of its residents at risk. The Daily Inter Lake then reported that the agency rated the facility in “immediate jeopardy.”

The lawsuit claims that Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation did not implement COVID-19 safety measures recommended by both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lawsuit also argues that 75% of the residents at the facility have contracted the virus since late August, with the first case having been reported on Aug. 12.

Court filings said Johnson entered the facility in June and was scheduled to be there for three months before he died. He tested positive Aug. 25 and died Sept. 7, one day before his family was set to remove him from the facility, the lawsuit said.

Pew developed COVID-19 symptoms while at the home and was transferred to the COVID-19 wing of the facility without his family being immediately notified, the lawsuit claims. He allegedly lost 50 pounds (23 kilograms) before his death Aug. 27.

Webber lost about 40 pounds (18 kilograms) before he died Sept. 14, the lawsuit said, adding that he was in good health before he was admitted to the facility.

The lawsuit claims that Crickmore knew the facility had deficiencies months before the outbreak but ignored complaints and recommended guidelines. The lawsuit alleges the facility and its parent company Sweetwater Whitefish Opco of negligence, breach of contract, wrongful death and more.

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