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Families upset with coronavirus response at Life Care Center in Kirkland

Several family members of residents at Life Care Center in Kirkland, which is at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, voiced their frustration Thursday.

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Families of the residents at Life Care Center in Kirkland, a nursing home at the center of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington state, voiced their frustrations about how things have been handled since the outbreak was first declared.

Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law Jerry Wall is a resident at Life Care, claimed many families learned about the outbreak on the news. 

"We have been complaining for days about the lack of information," said Connolly during a press conference Thursday where families gathered outside of Life Care Center. 

Pat Herrick said her mother, Elaine, was a resident at Life Care but died on Wednesday at 3:30 a.m. 

She explained a staff member called her early in the morning to say her mother had died, and then a different staff member called her at 10 a.m. to say her mother was doing fine. Herrick said she had to correct the employee that her mother had already passed away.

Herrick said her mother was not exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus and was told she died from natural causes but is fighting to get her mother's body tested for the virus.

“This is so tragic. I am so sorry for everybody involved, and I am so sorry for us as a country,” said Herrick.

RELATED: Real-time updates: 11 dead, 59 others infected with coronavirus in Washington

Mike Weatherill said his mother also died this week. She was 85 years old and previously had a stroke and just moved into Life Care last September. She came down with a cough in January and was coughing and wheezing as early as about a week and a half ago, according to Weatherill. 

"She was doing okay as of Sunday, Monday she wasn't well... and then on Tuesday they called and said they were going to give her antibiotics, but said she had no fever," Weatherill explained Thursday. "I told the nurse I wanted her to go the ER, but she said she couldn't cause there was no fever. Early Wednesday morning, she apparently came down with a fever... and was transferred to EvergreenHealth...and died at 6 a.m."

"I had no idea what was going on until almost 7 o'clock in the morning," Weatherill explained. 

Blood and tissue samples were taken from Weatherill's mother and sent to the labs to be tested for coronavirus, but he said the results have not come back yet. 

Connolly, and the other family members, said while they do not blame the staff at Life Care Center they are frustrated and want more answers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials.

The CDC sent a team to Life Care Center last Sunday, a day after the outbreak was first reported. But, Connolly and others claim the CDC professionals are only periodically on the site and not reachable. 

"The staff of the Life Care Center have demonstrated they don’t have the training or experience to contain this outbreak, nor should they be expected to do so," said Connolly. "Where is the CDC? Where are the trained professionals?"

Connolly says his father-in-law is currently doing well, but Connolly is worried about him staying at Life Care. However, he and other families said they cannot remove their family members from the center because no other facilities will take them since they've been exposed to the virus.

“At the rate that this disease is killing people in this establishment, my father-in-law will be dead by the end of the week," said Connolly. 

As of Thursday, a total of 10 people have died in King County from coronavirus. Four of those were residents at Life Care Center, according to the most recently available information. 

Connolly demanded an audience with Vice President Mike Pence, who is in Washington state Thursday to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee about the outbreak, as well as King County health leaders. 

President of Life Care Center, Beecher Hunter, issued a statement Thursday evening in response to the families' concerns:  

"Our clinical team is making personal, one-on-one telephone calls with family members to share information about loved ones and respond to questions. Communication is vital in the caregiving process and for keeping families abreast of developments in dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19). We have been working on-site with representatives from the King County Health Department, Washington State Department of Public Health and the CDC. Current residents and associates continue to be monitored closely. Associates are screened prior to beginning work and upon leaving with a specific screening protocol. Any associate who exhibits symptoms is self quarantined at home."

Our associates are the true heroes in this fight, overcoming their own fears and concerns about the disease to faithfully show up and work sacrificially for our residents. They are working tirelessly day after day and are calling in to check on their residents even when at home.

We grieve with the families who have lost loved ones; people who were important members of our professional family. Life is sacred and precious, and when it is lost, a little bit of those in their circle of friends dies with them. We extend our sympathies and our prayers for peace and comfort in such time of sorrow." -- Beecher Hunter, President, Life Care Centers of America.

RELATED: Here are the deaths and cases of coronavirus in Washington state

EvergreenHealth Medical Center CEO Jeff Tomlin addressed the coronavirus outbreak in Kirkland: 

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