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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Lawsuit Claims 'Gross Negligence' In COVID Death At Bloomington Nursing Home

Bloomington Rehabilitation and Health Care Center
Ryan Denham
Marlene Cowans-Hill was one of 11 people who died of COVID complications at Bloomington Rehabilitation and Health Care Center.

The family of a Bloomington nursing home resident who died of COVID-19 is suing the facility’s owner, claiming gross negligence for failing to prevent a coronavirus outbreak that led to 11 deaths at the long-term care facility.Anita Martin of Bloomington claims Bloomington Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center “consciously disregarded the health and safety of its residents” during the pandemic. Martin’s mother, Marlene Cowans-Hill, died in May amid the first major COVID outbreak at a long-term care facility in McLean County.

The lawsuit, filed in McLean County court, said the 72-year-old woman’s death was a “byproduct of years of the nursing home’s mismanagement, misallocation of resources and staffing and repeated violations and cited deficiencies of infection control and prevention requirements.”

The lawsuit said Peoria-based Petersen Health Care, which owns Bloomington Rehab, disregarded public health protocols by failing to increase the number of beds, properly employ PPE, conduct widespread coronavirus testing of residents or staff, and provide medical care to patients who contracted COVID-19.

The lawsuit alleges Cowans-Hill called 911 four times on May 12. She had complained to nursing home staff of shortness of breath, headache and increased back pain. She asked to be taken to the hospital. Cowans-Hill was taken to the hospital at Martin’s request on May 14 as Cowans-Hill's shortness of breath had gotten worse and her oxygen levels dropped. Bloomington Rehab did not notify the family she had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the lawsuit.

Cowans-Hill died the following day. 

The lawsuit seeks "in excess of $50,000" in damages. The Chicago firm of Levin and Perconti filed the lawsuit. The firm handles nursing home abuse and neglect cases. 

Attorney Megan Shore is representing the family. 

“Part of our allegations is that the facility usurped resources and monetary compensation into their own pockets as opposed to putting in place PPE and preventative measures in anticipation of COVID-19,” Shore said.

The lawsuit also referenced past violations by the facility that demonstrate “systemically negligent and reckless conduct,” and mentions nine prior incidents since 2011 in which the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) cited Bloomington Rehab for lax infection control measures, including three in 2019.

“There’s a clear pattern here at this particular facility for failing to ensure that there are appropriate measures in place to prevent not just COVID-19 from happening, but prevent the spread of infectious diseases of all sorts,” Shore said.

Petersen Health Care’s corporate director of census development, Tonya Hill, said the company doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters.

Previously, the Peoria-based company has said it has and will continue to “take all appropriate precautionary measures to mitigate the risk of exposure and to protect the safety and well-being of our residents and team members.”

The case is scheduled for a Feb. 4 hearing in McLean County Circuit Court.

Shore said Petersen is seeking to have the case moved to federal court--a move that she said is intended to limit the company’s liability through the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. The act would limit liability to willful misconduct.

Shore argues the act should not apply to this case since nursing homes were existing facilities that predate the pandemic.

According to IDPH, Bloomington Rehab has had 67 coronavirus positive cases and 12 deaths. One of the deaths is more recent and is part of an open case, according to IDPH. 

Heritage Health of Normal and the government-run McLean County Nursing Home also have had 11 COVID-related deaths.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify financial damages being sought in the lawsuit. 

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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