Suit: Group home with 17 COVID deaths violated safety rules
A former housekeeping supervisor for Marquis at Hope Village in Canby claims she consistently reported COVID-19 safety concerns to her superiors and was met with disregard and retaliation.
Now, after at least 17 people have died with COVID-19 in association with outbreaks at the assisted living facility, she's suing Marquis and Hope Village Campus Administrator Pilo Cano for $350,000.
Marquis had little to say about the situation because, according to a spokesperson, the company cannot discuss legal issues.
"What we can say is that Marquis Companies has closely monitored and followed CDC and OHA guidelines in response to COVID-19 to ensure employees and residents are safe during this unprecedented pandemic," the spokesperson said.
Erica Moreno, who was hired in September 2019, tells a different story.
She said even before COVID-19 hit, she was alarmed by practices at the facility. In one instance, she said she found cleaning chemicals that had expired decades earlier.
Then as COVID-19 began to sweep through the United States in March 2020, Moreno became concerned that unsafe practices at the facility would result in residents and staff contracting and spreading the virus, according to the lawsuit her attorney, Christina Stephenson, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
In early March, Moreno said, she noticed a particular housekeeping employee coughing and experiencing nasal drip. Moreno reported her concern about the health of the housekeeper to the director of nursing of Marquis at Hope Village, Rhoda Parreno, and to Cano. Parreno allegedly said the housekeeper, Parreno's family member, could continue working.
Apparently, the housekeeper was later sent home with a fever, but Parreno cleared her to go back to work the next day.
During March and April, Moreno made numerous complaints to Cano and Administrator Marci Bird about housekeeping staff displaying COVID-like symptoms and not being tested for the virus. She worried about the residents being exposed since housekeepers are constantly in and out of rooms. She also complained about staff members failing to wear masks and practice social distancing.
The suit claims her concerns were "completely dismissed." In one case, Cano allegedly called Moreno into his office and chastised her for sharing her safety concerns during a supervisors' meeting. Another time, Cano allegedly told Moreno to direct further concerns to him only, comparing Moreno's complaints to a game of telephone involving international calls with bad connections.
Moreno, who is Hispanic, understood this comment to be an allusion to the fact that she and other housekeepers are native Spanish speakers.
"Cano clearly equated concerns from the housekeeping department as inconvenient, irritating and irrelevant concerns from a world away," the suit says.
Early in April, COVID-19 testing kits arrived, and management announced they would be used for residents. Moreno questioned why staff would not be tested, to which Cano allegedly responded that Marquis did not feel the need to test employees.
On April 14, a Marquis caregiving employee was sent home for being sick. That employee told Moreno that they had previously reported their illness to Bird, who allegedly instructed the employee to continue working. The employee worked from about April 10 through April 14, according to the suit. On April 15, they tested positive for COVID-19.
Marquis then sent an email to all staff, saying, "An Assisted Living employee has tested positive for COVID-19 … This employee has not worked at the facility since developing symptoms. We believe this was a community (outside the facility) source."
Moreno told Cano this was a misrepresentation of facts because the employee had worked at the facility while having symptoms, and Cano allegedly admitted that the email was not entirely truthful.
The suit claims that counter to CDC recommendations, no one who worked with the COVID-19-positive employee was tested for the virus or asked to quarantine.
On April 16, Cano required Moreno to move her desk and gave her a non-functioning computer, per the lawsuit. Moreno received this as retaliation for her continued complaints. That same day, when Moreno brought more concerns to Cano and Parreno, the suit claims Cano became "extremely irritated with (Moreno) and accused her of being paranoid."
Later that day, Moreno was called into a meeting with three Marquis administrators — Cano, Bird and Melissa Laurandeau. They allegedly told her she was overly concerned about COVID-19 and that she was worrying others. They allegedly pressured her to resign, saying that if she needed to make the decision to stay home with her family, they would understand.
Moreno told them she wanted to keep her job and that she was hired to keep the facility properly cleaned and sterilized, but that Marquis and Cano ignored her grievances. She reiterated that CDC guidelines were not being followed. The administrators allegedly told her masks and social distancing were recommendations but not requirements.
Moreno broke down in tears, reportedly from the stress she was experiencing, and told the administrators she knew COVID-19 would get bad at Marquis.
She took her complaints to the corporate office only to be told allegedly that she was "paranoid and overreacting."
That day, she also reported COVID-related safety violations at the facility to the Oregon Health Authority.
The next day, April 17, the suit claims Zach Fogg from the corporate office called Moreno to say he had been told she was resigning, and he allegedly pressured her to stay home with her family. Moreno reportedly felt she had no choice, and told Fogg that would be her last day with Marquis. She emailed Cano, Bird and Parreno to inform them of her resignation, citing emotional stress over the concerns she had raised with leadership.
Less than two months later, on June 5, Marquis at Hope Village Post-Acute Rehab reported its first COVID-19 infection, which spread to 33 of 38 residents, 43 staff and approximately 37 associated persons. At least 10 residents died.
The lawsuit claims that even after the outbreak, Marquis at Hope Village failed to institute its stated COVID-19 screening procedures and was cited by the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Another outbreak at the facility, first reported in November, is still active and as of Wednesday, Feb. 3, has taken seven lives, according to the OHA.
Moreno believes Marquis and Cano failed to respond to her numerous safety concerns and that they retaliated against her because of her complaints. The lawsuit claims that because of the defendants' actions, Moreno suffered economic damages, such as lost wages and other income, and non-economic damages including pain, suffering and emotional distress.
With the help of her attorney, Stephenson, Moreno is seeking economic damages not to exceed $100,000 and emotional harm not to exceed $250,000.
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