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First Lawsuit Filed Against Kansas City, Kansas, Rehab Facility Over COVID-19 Death

040920_Riverbend rehab facility_man at entrance_Julie Denesha.jpg
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
An unidentified man leaves the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation, where 27 people have died and 119 people have tested positive for COVID-19. It is the largest coronavirus cluster in Kansas.

The first lawsuit over a COVID-19 death at Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation was filed by the family of an 87-year-old man who had hoped to spend a short time there.

The family of an 87-year-old man who had been in the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation for just a month before the it was ravaged by the coronavirus has filed a lawsuit against the facility.

Okey Long of Kansas City, Kansas, died on April 17, after COVID-19 took hold in the facility. So far, Long and another 26 people have died there. Long was in a “frail, defenseless, and dependent condition,” and Riverbend failed to protect him, the lawsuit alleges.

Long’s widow, Addie Bush Long, and adult daughter, Latrice Newman, claim that Riverbend should have been protecting its residents and staff before March 31 by monitoring them for fever, cough and other COVID-19 symptoms.

The first positive case was reported to the Unified Government’s Public Health Department on April 1. Officials have said they believe it was brought into Riverbend by a staff worker.

Riverbend failed to tell Long’s family about the outbreak, which they learned from the news, the lawsuit said. Riverbend also failed to follow proper infection control protocols, to ensure its workers weren’t sick, to provide proper personal protective equipment and to separate the residents who were COVID-19 positive from the rest of the residents, the lawsuit alleges.

The family’s attorney, Rachel Stahle, said Long had suffered a seizure and went into Riverbend in February hoping for rehabilitation and a quick recovery.

Long Family
Okey Long, of Kansas City, Kansas, was a barber, sold hair products and worked for TWA. Long was 87-years-old when he died of COVID-19 at the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation.

“From what the family understood, he was getting better,” she said. “They were expecting that he would be coming home.”

Cory Schulte, Riverbend’s executive director, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“Due to the recent public discussion of potential litigation against Riverbend, I think it prudent for me to discontinue responding to media requests,” he said.

The lawsuit also names Riverbend’s parent company, Big Blue Healthcare, Inc., which is owned by The Ensign Group, Inc., a Southern California company that owns more than 250 assisted living, skilled nursing and rehabilitative care facilities in the U.S.

“There’s a lot of corporate failures that go into these types of situations,” Stahle said. “So that’s what the case is really about: the corporate failures that lead to this and how do we ensure that something like this never happens again.”

As of Thursday, 94 Riverbend residents and 25 staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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