'The emotional toll was devastating': Life Care Center of Kirkland making strides 6 months after outbreak

It’s been nearly six months of Carmen Gray visiting her mother daily through the window at Life Care Center of Kirkland.

“It’s very depressing to be in there and to have your roommate dead, your good friend dead and hearing the ambulances coming and going, and we just want to try to make her feel better by visiting," Gray said. 

Gray’s 76-year-old mother, Susan, was one of about 100 Life Care patients who got COVID-19 in early March. Administrators reported a respiratory illness spreading at the facility on Feb. 10, not knowing at the time it would be the first major coronavirus outbreak in the country. 

“It’s been a huge huge impact. It’s taken away her independence. It’s also taken away her confidence," Gray said. 

She recovered from the virus in the sense that her tests come out negative, but Carmen says the virus appears to have permanently damaged her mother’s health. “

She is showing signs of dementia, she’s no longer walking, and so there’s a lot of concern that she might have this secondary COVID-19 issue going on," Gray said. 

Susan was at Life Care recovering from surgery and was about to go home, right before the virus struck. Now COVID-19 has left her too weak and sickly to go without around the clock care, something that’s difficult for her to accept.

“Visiting her and her saying, 'Can you take me home? When are we leaving? I’m all packed I’m ready to go,'” says Gray.

“The emotional toll was devastating. We lost a lot of patients,” says Nancy Butner, the northwest division vice president of Life Care.

While the Kirkland facility may no longer have any cases, the struggles the virus caused still linger.

“The feelings and emotions of what we’ve experienced haven’t gone away. It gets easier to live with, but it certainly hasn’t gone away,” says Butner.

The facility has rigorous protocols in place now for screening and handling the virus. They said the takeaways from those early days are endless.

“When it happened to Life Care Kirkland, nobody understood it, nobody knew it what it looked like, it was invisible. We didn’t have the testing capacity so it took time to get tested. Now I can test the whole building in 48 hours and know the results.”

Things certainly aren’t back to normal, far from it, but with no new recent cases the facility is making strides and began admitting new patients July 1.

Life Care is currently appealing the $600,000 federal fine stemming from their March outbreak.