Local attorney looking at Mass. nursing homes for potential wrongful death lawsuits

NORTH READING, Mass. — So many nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, it will nearly impossible for state investigators to get to the bottom of them all.

That’s according to David J. Hoey, a North Reading attorney who specializes in nursing home negligence and wrongful death cases.

“I’m glad the [Massachusetts] Attorney General is getting involved a little bit, but again, what is the AG going to do? Investigate 4,000 deaths? Can’t do it,” Hoey said.

More than 4,200 long term care residents in Massachusetts have died from COVID-19 complications, according to data released by the Dept. of Public Health.

Hoey said his office has been in contact with more than 100 families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, including one family from the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley.

At least 26 people from the Littleton facility died from the virus, state data shows.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Wednesday her office has been investigating the center since April.

“We owe it to the families who lost loved ones under these tragic circumstances to determine what went wrong,” Healey said in a statement.

But Hoey said the state is overwhelmed with cases, and it will be hard for relatives to find justice if they believe a relative died because of negligence.

“There’s very little in the way of Department of Public Health investigations,” Hoey said. “There’s no way they could handle all the investigations. It’s impossible.”

In the way, Hoey said, is a new legal hurdle to overcome: Last month Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law that grants certain health care facilities immunity from civil liability.

Hoey plans to challenge that law in court because he said residents in long term care still have rights.

“You have a right to know whether your roommate has it. You have a right to know whether staff is carrying it. You have a right to know whether the building is infected by it. The same holds true for COVID[-19]. You can’t make the exception for COVID[-19],” Hoey said.

According to Dept. of Public Health records, 13 Life Care Centers in Massachusetts account for 237 COVID-19 related deaths.

Vicky Fetters’ 79-year-old mother tested positive for the virus at Nashoba Valley in March. Her mom is one of the lucky ones. She eventually recovered.

“I feel there should be a lawsuit. I actually looked into it as soon as my mother left the hospital. I’m not looking for money. I want them to be held accountable,” Fetters said.

Hoey said taking on the health care industry can be daunting, but he believes a slew of lawsuits will soon be filed around the country.

“I think the industry got scared, and panicked a little bit,” Hoey said. “As a result the kneejerk reactions, you didn’t tell family, you didn’t tell friends, you didn’t tell staff and you didn’t tell residents or patients. Next thing you know the media finds out, now the world knows and you look bad.”

There is a three-year statute of limitations to file litigation, according to Hoey.

Once probate courts reopen around the state, Hoey expects to see complaints filed later this year.

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