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caption: The Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing care facility that has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, is shown on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Kirkland.
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The Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing care facility that has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, is shown on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Kirkland.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Life Care Center families still waiting on a response from state watchdog

After a public appearance outside the nursing home at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, families say they've had difficulty contacting the state's long-term care ombudsperson.

Last week Washington state’s nursing home watchdog showed up at Life Care Center in Kirkland to assure families they’d have a clear line of communication when advocating for their loved ones’ rights.

Long-Term Care Ombuds Patricia Hunter, with attorney Amy Freeman, told family members how to reach out to the advocacy group and get their questions for Life Care and public agencies answered.

9 crucial days: Without local medical staff help, Life Care had to wait on a federal strike team

The first step, Hunter said, was to setup a virtual town hall style meeting for the dozens of families to learn about federal protection statutes and resident rights.

“I am so willing to facilitate a town hall meeting, without media, between family members, Department of Public Health, and Life Care," Hunter said. "If everyone is willing to participate.”

“Absolutely, absolutely,” said nodding family members, circled around Hunter.

This in-person response from the ombuds’ office was welcomed by families who say it’s been impossible to get in contact with state and local public health officials.

That was Monday.

By Friday, Scott Sedlacek – whose father is in Life Care – says he called Hunter’s office twice about a virtual town hall for families.

“She [Hunter] asked that we not follow up on it until Thursday,” Sedlacek said. “So I followed up on Thursday and I followed up on Friday. Again, no answer yet.”

Sedlacek, who attends almost every press conference outside Life Care Center, said he’s not shocked at the lack of response.

“It's an issue that is not unusual, but it’s part of what's so frustrating about this entire disaster,” Sedlacek said.

Katherine Kempf’s father is also at Life Care and has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Kempf says she’s called the ombuds’ office five times.

“It surprises me that when the ombuds was here in person, in front of cameras, it seemed very promising and supportive," Kempf said. "But actually getting that support -- there's a gap.”

At Monday’s press conference attorney Amy Freeman stressed the importance of communicating with affected loved ones during a crisis, saying the office reached out to Life Care Center in Kirkland for family contacts within 48 hours of the news of an outbreak and then had to wait two weeks for the information.

“It took too long to get that,” Freeman said.

Messages to the ombuds office have not yet been returned.

On Friday a Life Care Center spokesperson also said they’ve haven’t heard anything about a town hall for families.