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Bria of Geneva faces 1st COVID-related wrongful death lawsuit

Woman who died at Bria was mother-in-law to former Judge Colwell

Helen Osucha, mother-in-law of former Kane County Judge Michael Colwell, died April 26 of coronavirus. Her daughter, Pam Colwell, filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging 'wanton and willful misconduct' in how it handled the pandemic, leading to her death.
Helen Osucha, mother-in-law of former Kane County Judge Michael Colwell, died April 26 of coronavirus. Her daughter, Pam Colwell, filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging 'wanton and willful misconduct' in how it handled the pandemic, leading to her death.

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GENEVA – A wrongful death lawsuit was filed May 18 in Kane County against Bria of Geneva, alleging that the nursing home’s “wanton and willful misconduct” during the COVID-19 pandemic caused the death of Helen Osucha, mother-in-law of former Kane County Judge Michael Colwell.

This is the first lawsuit filed against Bria of Geneva, 1101 E. State St., Geneva, regarding its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The Illinois Department of Public Health lists Bria of Geneva with the highest number of deaths from coronavirus in Kane County, with 22, and an outbreak of 112 confirmed cases. The Kane County Coroner lists 23 deaths, however, because his data includes someone from Bria who died later in the hospital from the virus.

The 16-page lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

Filed by Michael Lenert of Meyers and Flowers in St. Charles on behalf of Osucha’s daughter, Pam Colwell, the lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Bria of Geneva failed to ensure adequate supplies of personal protection equipment to staff; failed to take infection control and prevention measures; failed to screen residents and staff for symptoms of the virus; did not place residents suspected of having coronavirus in isolation; and through its negligence, led to her death from COVID-19 on April 26.

From April 15 to April 26, Osucha’s health deteriorated rapidly, causing her to become bedridden and unable to eat or use the toilet on her own, according to the lawsuit.

“Despite Helen’s symptoms and the facility’s assumption that she was COVID-positive, she was not isolated nor was she tested for COVID-19 prior to her passing,” according to the lawsuit. “Bria-Geneva failed to notify and inform Helen’s daughter that her mother was gravely ill due to a COVID-19 infection contracted at the facility.”

COVID-19 was ‘a silent enemy’

In an emailed response to a request for comment May 18, a spokesperson for Bria of Geneva stated that the nursing home followed guidance from public health departments as they continuously evolved and as more information about the coronavirus became known.

“Because testing was not immediately accessible, the high number of asymptomatic carriers among residents and staff created a silent enemy impossible to detect and difficult to defeat,” according to the statement.

“These form the backdrop of why the state of Illinois has granted immunity to health care providers for injuries stemming from the diagnoses, transmission and treatment of COVID-19,” according to the statement. “We remain committed to providing compassionate care to our residents, and as of Monday more than 50 residents and 33 staff have now recovered from the virus or remain asymptomatic after testing positive.”

‘It was the right thing to do’

Michael Colwell said what he hopes the lawsuit will accomplish is to highlight problems in the nursing home industry and to alert government officials and the public as to these problems.

“We did not file this for financial reasons but because we thought it was the right thing to do for Helen and people similarly situated,” Michael Colwell said. “I felt that in light of the situation at Bria, there were many nursing homes that did not have this issue. It was obvious – at least to me – that something had gone wrong.”

Nursing homes are part of our world, and as people age, we can hope to see some improvement there, Michael Colwell said.

Among the many issues connected with Osucha’s death was that Bria of Geneva never told the family she had COVID-19, Michael Colwell said.

“We did know that the virus was there, but we had never been told she was sick – or what a disaster was going on there,” Michael Colwell said.

“The difficulty for Pam, first of all, was that we could not see her and there was no way to say goodbye to her,” Michael Colwell said. “And to learn she died of this [coronavirus] from the funeral director was pretty shocking to me. … We really don’t know what testing, if any, was done or not done before her death.”

Claim against Bria, not its staff

Lenert said the lawsuit is against the nursing home as an institution, not against its nurses or staff.

“This is a claim against the institution. It is in no way directed to medical staff or nurses,” Lenert said. “In fact, this lawsuit is filed not only for the residents who were neglected but the nurses and staff who were not provided personal protective equipment or necessary safeguards to safely treat these residents. We do not want anyone to think this is directed to nurses or staff. It is the administration of Bria that failed everyone. That is what we want to make clear.”

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