Family files personal injury lawsuit against Salisbury nursing home at center of COVID-19 outbreak

Updated: Apr. 21, 2020 at 7:22 PM EDT
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SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - A personal injury lawsuit has been filed in Rowan County court on behalf of the family of a resident of The Citadel-Salisbury.

Attorneys representing an elderly woman who is said to be seriously ill with COVID-19 claim negligence and reckless conduct on the part of Citadel management and staff, and are demanding a jury trial.

Citadel-Salisbury is on Julian Road and was formerly known as Genesis. It has been identified by state and county health officials as the site of a COVID-19 outbreak with at least 102 positive confirmed cases.

Citadel resident Marjorie Fuller Garvin is represented by the Salisbury law firm of Wallace & Graham. The defendants are listed as Accordius Health dba Citadel of Salisbury and Accordius Health, LLC.

Additional defendants are listed as Simcha Hyman, CEO of Accordius Health Salisbury, the Portopiccolo Group, LLC, of New York, listed as investors in Accordius, and Sherri Stoltzfus, the administrator at the CItadel-Salisbury.

According to a news release from Wallace & Graham, Citadel-Salisbury is part of a claim owned and controlled by a private equity investment firm in the New York area. The family alleges that the company failed to track the virus as it grew and spread and did not take proper steps to protect Ms. Garvin and others from the pandemic. Once it hit, family members were unable to reach staff by phone and were left in the dark on the status of their loved ones. Citadel staff have complained that they, too, were not given proper protection and were left in the dark by the corporate office.

Accordius Health owns and operates numerous nursing homes in and around the Charlotte, Triad and Asheville areas, and elsewhere in North Carolina.

According to Mona Lisa Wallace: “Our firm is very concerned regarding the issues exposed by the facts that are known in this case. The public records regarding this nursing home facility reflect that unsanitary and unsafe conditions existed even before the virus came to our area. The residents of elder care facilities are some of our most vulnerable citizens. They deserve much better. Not only the residents, but their family members, friends, the staff, and physicians have all been exposed and put in jeopardy because of what has occurred. We believe the company should have done much more to anticipate and guard against the COVID-19 virus before it was too late.”

The suit alleges that the facility was “poorly staffed,” and that during an inspection in February, received an inspection report that reflected “unsafe and unsanitary” conditions. Corrective action was not taken, according to suit, resulting in creation of a “lethal and growing reservoir of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” which is the “causative agent of the COVID-19 disease.”

The plaintiff, Ms. Garvin, is described as “a lucid and vibrant individual.” She was placed in Citadel-Salisbury in February, 2020, paying $11,000 per month for a “private room and quality care.”

Garvin is now seriously ill with COVID-19, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also lists conditions found at Citadel-Salisbury during the February inspection. It said that the facility had “failed to resolve repeated concerns reported during resident council meetings related to not answering ‘call lights’ for three consecutive months, not cleaning showers for six consecutive months, along with other violations.”

This environment allowed for the spread of the coronavirus, according to the allegations.

“Neither the plaintiff nor her caretakers and loved ones had any idea of the poor and dangerous conditions then existing at the facility,” the suit says.

The lawsuit claims that concerned family and friends learned at some point that Ms. Garvin had been moved into a “quarantine hall” when she reportedly had a UTI and a fever. Ms. Garvin eventually called her son to express fear and confusion over her situation, the lawsuit states.

Family and friends were allegedly left in the dark without information about Ms. Garvin’s situation despite numerous attempts to contact, the lawsuit claims. They went on to find out that she had been moved from her own private room to a room with a resident who tested positive for COVID-19, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that loved ones learned from news reports that the situation at the Citadel had become dire due to a coronavirus outbreak, but when they reached out for information they were told that the situation was being handled by corporate.

Family at some time was told that Ms. Garvin had tested positive for COVID-19. As her condition weakened, family requested to be able to visit, according to the lawsuit.

When family and friends arrived, they allegedly received a disposable suit, booties, and a face mask but no gloves, the lawsuit says.

“When they were escorted to the quarantine hall, it was like walking into a death ward,” the lawsuit says.

Garvin, the suit says, was injured “while in the care of the Defendants and their staff at the Citadel facility, due to the grossly negligent and/or reckless conduct of defendants and their employees acting in the normal course and scope of their work duties.”

The lawsuit claims that the conduct of the Citadel, including acts of egregious, reckless, willful and wanton conduct, justifies an award of punitive damages. The lawsuit requests the awarding of actual and compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs, fees and expenses as well as interest allowable by law and other relief the court may deem just and proper.

As part of the allegation, there is a claim that the facility breached their duty of due care through lack of awareness during the coronavirus pandemic, intentional negligence and disregard for safety and failure to protect others for harm and exposure to dangerous conditions.

The plaintiff allegedly suffered damage in the amount of more than $25,000 due to the Citadel’s breach of duty, the lawsuit states

The allegation also claims that Accordius Health failed to use their available resources to ensure proper level of care and safety, specifically at the Salisbury facility.

The suit demands a jury trial in the case.

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