NewsArizona News


Families plan to sue long-term care facilities after loved ones' deaths

Posted at 10:50 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 01:50:54-04

Nearly every day, more numbers are added to the coronavirus 'death total' tracker on the Arizona Department of Health Services website. But there are men and women behind the number, which currently sits at 426. The vast majority are elderly.

Arizonans 65 and older account for 78 percent of our state's deaths, while only making up 23 percent of the COVID-19 cases. As of May 6, there are 122 long-term care facilities in Maricopa County with at least one case of COVID-19.

One of the facilities with far more than one case is Westchester Senior Living in Tempe.

ABC15 first learned of a coronavirus outbreak there when memory care resident Bill O'Brien was rushed to the ICU, the day after Easter.

His daughter, Shannon Parys, called 911 after observing her father in a near-catatonic state through his window.

"He really probably would've died had I not gone exactly when I did and called the paramedics," she said.

Bill was on a ventilator for three weeks. On Tuesday night, the nurses at Chandler Regional called his only child, Shannon, and told her to 'It was imminent' and she should hurry into the ICU.

"It was surreal walking through the ICU," said Shannon. "I tried to just tell him how much we all loved him. And I just said, you've been the best father I could ever ask for. And I just said keep fighting hard, daddy."

And Bill fought for weeks; long enough to hear his granddaughters wish their Papa Bill a happy 75th birthday via Facetime.

The deadly virus was too much though.

"The suffering that he went through, someone needs to be held accountable for that," she said.

Shannon hopes to hold Westchester Senior Living accountable with a lawsuit. Other families with loved ones at the facility tell ABC15 she is not the only one pursuing litigation.

Bill O'Brien was the first case at Westchester, but now 15 of his neighbors in the 16 person memory care center have contracted COVID-19.

And at least 25 employees and 29 other residents are also infected.

Bill's close friend and neighbor Beverly Schwartz passed away in the ICU last month. She caught the virus just days after Bill did.

RELATED: Caregivers working at multiple long-term care facilities may contribute to spread of COVID-19

"So we're hearing a lot of these types of stories, unfortunately," said Jenna Bailey, a personal injury attorney who specializes in negligent and wrongful death suits, many involving nursing homes.

Bailey is representing Shannon Parys in potential litigation involving Westchester.

"So what we're looking to determine is whether or not the facility itself, or through employees, whether or not there was some negligence," said Bailey, who founded her own law practice, Bailey Law Firm.
"So what we're looking to determine is whether or not the facility itself, or through employees, whether or not there was some negligence," said Bailey, who founded her own law practice, Bailey Law Firm.
Bailey says that while COVID-19 is unprecedented, nursing homes still have a standard of care.

"They have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent their residents from contracting infections of any sort," she said.

Shannon Parys alleges Westchester's management failed her father in his final days.

"Especially because we know [management] told [employees] not to wear masks," said Shannon.

In mid-April, a Westchester employee spoke out about the PPE use to ABC15.

"Nobody had any masks on; nobody had any protective equipment," she said, claiming that she witnessed caretakers without masks or gloves.

ABC15 also uncovered that employees at long-term care facilities, including Westchester, were working at multiple locations, which may have potentially led to multiple COVID-19 hotspots.

Multiple families with loved ones at the facilities involved tell ABC15 they plan to sue.

"We're definitely going to see an increase in the claims being brought," said Marc Lamber, a personal injury attorney with Fennemore Craig.

Lamber also believes facilities, caregivers, and healthcare workers will likely have more liability protections from COVID-19 lawsuits.

"So it's a higher hurdle to get over when the hurdle was already relatively high," he said.

There will be countless lawsuits in the coming months. Tragically, many will be preceded by funerals.

"We are all going to take something away from this pandemic. Unfortunately, mine is going to be the loss of my sweet dad," said Shannon.