'It Made the World Around Us Stop': Life Care of Kirkland Remembers Residents Who Died of COVID-19

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At Life Care Center of Kirkland, one resident showed her appreciation by giving staff members packets of Chiclets gum. Another, an artist, won art contests six years in a row and taught her neighbors to paint. A third put up pictures of employees' children in her room and asked how they were doing in school.

The three residents all died of COVID-19, at the first site of an outbreak in the United States, the first of thousands of long-term care facilities that have proven especially vulnerable to the virus.

The report of the first death at Life Care became public Feb. 29, six months ago this weekend. Within a four-week span, 39 residents of the Eastside facility died from complications related to COVID-19.

Life Care held a short ceremony Friday afternoon at its Kirkland building that included remarks from national and local Life Care officials, candle-lighting and the unveiling of a plaque that will remain on the grounds to remember the COVID-19 victims.

"I had no idea then how this would affect our residents at Kirkland and in skilled nursing facilities across the country. COVID's presence was sudden and all-encompassing. It made the world around us stop," said Nancy Butner, vice president of Life Care Centers of America's Northwest Division.

The plaque is topped with "In Honor of those who lost their battle with COVID-19" and has a quote from Forrest Preston, the founder and chairman of Life Care Centers of America, that reads in part "Life Care is a family. When a family member is taken from us, it leaves a hole in our hearts. When the culprit is an unprecedented virus like COVID-19, the hole is deeper. The wound hurts a little more."

When the first death at the nursing home was reported, the virus had killed 2,900 people globally. Six months later, the death toll has increased to 833,000 people, including 184,000 in the United States. More than 15,000 long-term care facilities have reported COVID-19 cases and thousands of their residents have died. Life Care and other senior care companies continue to face criticism for their responses to the pandemic; family members of two people receiving care at the Kirkland facility have filed wrongful-death lawsuits.

The Life Care residents who died "taught all of us important lessons about the disease and ultimately saved countless lives across the country," said Todd Fletcher, vice president of Life Care's Western operations. "All of America owes a debt to them."

Few people were present at Life Care in order to comply with social distancing requirements, but the ceremony was livestreamed on Life Care's website.

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