Supervisors, managers and administrators of Milton Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility acted with “gross negligence” and “outrageous conduct” leading to the death of a nursing home resident who died of COVID-19, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Northumberland County.

Attorneys from Philadelphia and Lock Haven filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kenetha Guyer, daughter of the late Jeffrey C. Markle, 63, of Milton, who died Aug. 27.

The medical liability lawsuit alleges four counts including wrongful death against the nursing home and related companies collectively identified as its owners, operators and managers: Milton Operating LLC in Milton and Philadelphia, MAPA Operating LLC and MAPA Management Company, both of Philadelphia, MIMA Healthcare LLC of Cherry Hill, N.J. and Bedrock Care LLC of Pomona, N.Y.

The defendants are accused of consciously deciding not to provide sufficient staffing, training, equipment and resources to safely operate amidst the pandemic. The legal filing cites findings from the Pennsylvania Department of Health inspections including the state’s claim that the facility permitted symptomatic staff to work with test results pending that ultimately returned positive for COVID-19.

The plaintiff’s attorneys seek compensatory and punitive damages of $50,000 minimum for each count.

The lawsuit expressly states that it makes no claims against caregivers and frontline staff like nurses, aides, technicians, therapists and other staff. Day-to-day staff “provided care to Milton residents during the COVID-19 pandemic despite the Facility being understaffed, improperly supervised and ill-equipped due to Defendants.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health previously found that Milton Nursing failed to protect staff and residents by not implementing preventative measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease attributed to 35 resident deaths during a summertime outbreak first reported in early August.

According to the state, 59 staff members and 108 residents tested positive for the disease. Geisinger employees, National Guard members and other staff from the facility’s corporate operator, Bedrock Care of New York, were used to help fill gaps as staffers fell ill.

“As a result of Defendants’ negligent, grossly negligent, reckless and outrageous conduct in the operation of its Milton Facility, in excess of 90% of the residents contracted COVID-19 and approximately one-third of those residents, including Plaintiff’s Decedent, died due to COVID-19,” the lawsuit states.

Markle suffered injuries in a fall at home and was admitted July 6 at Milton Nursing for acute rehabilitation, the lawsuit states. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease but proved capable of living at home with partial assistance until he fell and was injured, according to the legal filing. At the time of his admission, he was also being treated for multiple maladies including pneumonia and dehydration, the lawsuit states.

Dozens of facility residents had already been diagnosed with COVID-19 when Markle tested positive on or about Aug. 14, the lawsuit states. His family wasn’t notified until the next day and weren’t provided information about his condition, a plan for treatment or the opportunity to speak with a staff physician, according to the lawsuit.

On Aug. 18, Markle was at Evangelical Community Hospital from where an Emergency Department doctor called the family to seek decisions about care in the event Markle would be intubated or need to be resuscitated

“Milton staff transferred Decedent to the hospital without informing Decedent’s family members or representatives,” the lawsuit states. “Milton staff never informed Decedent’s family members and representatives that Decedent’s condition was worsening in any manner.”

Markle suffered a temperature of 104.9 degrees Fahrenheit, acute respiratory failure, dehydration due to COVID pneumonia, coronavirus infection and more, the lawsuit states. He died nine days later.

Milton Nursing and its owners, operators and managers failed to properly communicate with residents and families, the lawsuit alleges. They also failed, according to the lawsuit, to establish and maintain an infection prevention and control program, adequate written policies and procedures, and failed to uphold standards set by state and federal regulations guiding the operation of nursing homes.

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