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Los Angeles call center operators charged in 14 COVID-19 deaths Story-level




The operators of a luxury Los Angeles care facility for dementia patients were indicted Tuesday with felony elder abuse and other criminal charges related to the deaths of an employee and 13 residents during the first days of the pandemic.

Silverado Beverly Place Memory Care Community, near the Fairfax district, specializes in caring for older residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and was the site of an outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020.

The employee and residents died during the outbreak, in which 45 employees and 60 residents were infected, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. The operators of the facility were sued in civil court by the families of several residents and the employee who died. The facility was the subject of a 2020 Times investigation.

The facility was meant to be closed to visitors, prosecutors said, when it admitted a patient from a New York psychiatric unit. Silverado Beverly Place’s own protocols required that it not admit anyone from a high-risk area like New York City, which at the time was considered a COVID-19 epicenter.

Prosecutors say the patient was not tested for the coronavirus when he was admitted and showed symptoms the next morning. But after they tested positive, they were not quarantined, according to the criminal charges.

The facility’s management failed to block visitors who traveled domestically or internationally within 14 days to areas where cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, prosecutors allege.

“These careless decisions created conditions that needlessly exposed Silverado staff and residents to serious injury and, tragically, death,” dist. attorney George Gascon said in a statement.

Three managers were charged with 13 felony elder endangerment and five felony rape causing death. The latest charges were filed in connection with the facility’s management of the health and safety of its employees. Loren Bernard Shook, Jason Michael Russo and Kimberly Cheryl Butrum were charged along with Irvine-based Silverado Senior Living Management Inc.

Prosecutors say the New York patient was admitted to Silverado Beverly Place for financial considerations.

Investigators with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health conducted a two-and-a-half-year investigation at Silverado Beverly Place, whose parent company runs multiple care centers across the country. Silverado Beverly Place was cited for violating the aerosol communicable disease standard, which is intended to protect “employees who are at increased risk of contracting certain airborne infections due to their work activities,” according to Cal/OSHA.

The facility was fined $114,500 in proposed penalties for the violations, but appealed the citations, according to a division spokesperson.

An email to Silverado Senior Living Management Inc. seeking comment on the charges was not immediately returned.

Gascón, during a press conference in downtown Los Angeles, also read the names of the 14 people who died. They are nurses Brittany Bruner-Ringo, Elizabeth Cohen, Joseph Manduke, Catherine Apothaker, Jake Khorsandi, Albert Sarnoff, Dolores Sarnoff, Myrna Frank, Frank Piumetti, Jay Tedeman, Luba Paz, Kaye Kiddoo, Richard Herman, and Michael Horn.

Bruner-Ringo told her mother that the newly admitted patient was showing signs of illness: profuse sweating, a “productive” cough and a fever approaching 103 degrees, her mother told The Times.

“I said, ‘Those are definitely problematic,'” recalled Kim Bruner-Ringo, a veteran nurse in Oklahoma City.

The patient was so ill that Brittany Bruner-Ringo called 911 for an ambulance, but it was too late. In the days and weeks that followed, the virus would spread throughout the facility.

Bruner-Ringo stopped breathing on April 20, 2020, in the intensive care unit at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, according to her family. she was 32

“I prayed every day that Brittany would be able to tell her own story,” said her sister, Breanna Hurd.

Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Alan Eisner, who is not involved in the case, believes the charges are unique because they involve decisions made by managers of a senior care facility during the early days of the pandemic.

“This is a once-in-a-generation pandemic,” Eisner said. “I don’t want to ignore all the people who died. But that’s a high bar that prosecutors have to prove and prove that the facility is responsible for the deaths of all the other patients and even the nurse.”

Jody Moore, an attorney representing seven clients who became ill with COVID-19 or died while in Silverado, said that in early 2020 the federal government provided guidance to long-term care facilities on how to protect older residents. , including detection and testing policies. .

“It doesn’t make any sense to say loved ones can’t come in, private caregivers can’t come in, because their documentation says we’re putting residents at significant risk by exposing them to whatever might come in through the front door.” Moore said. “What they allowed in the front door was someone with dollars attached. And that’s what really is egregious misconduct here.”

Helena Apothaker received an email from the center in the early days of the pandemic to inform her that she would not be able to visit her mother, Catherine. The message said that the facility would be closed for the safety of its elderly residents.

“No one was allowed in,” Apothaker said in an interview with The Times. “They were going to keep our loved ones safe. That was his main priority. Well not 30 days later I guess they lost their top priority.”

His mother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease but was generally in good health, Apothaker said. After her mother tested positive for COVID-19, Apothaker placed her in hospice care and was eventually allowed to visit her in person.

“I was in the building with my mother for the week that she died,” Apothaker said. “I can’t imagine what it must have been like for everyone who had to watch their parents die through a window or watch their loved ones die on FaceTime.”

Hearing the news that criminal charges have been filed against Silverado Beverly Place filled Apothaker with a sense of justice, because it seems people have forgotten about the pandemic and the people who have died.

“But I remember my mother died,” he said. “The only thing I had to hold on to was the idea that she maybe she would one day get some justice.”

Times staff writer Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.

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