Three daughters are grieving for their mothers, all former residents of Life Care Center of Lewiston and victims of COVID-19.

The women have varying degrees of discomfort with the company’s lack of transparency about what has happened at the nursing home. But their angst sits side by side with admiration for the care their mothers received at the facility.

In an April 17 statement to the Lewiston Tribune, Life Care of Lewiston officials said eight residents had tested positive for the illness, and one of those patients had died. The company said other residents had symptoms but, at that time, had not been tested. It also acknowledged that 11 employees tested positive for the illness.

The statement from Tiffany Goin, senior executive director of the center, was silent on the fate of the untested but symptomatic residents and whether any of them had lost their lives to the disease. More than a dozen residents of the facility have died this month, according to death notices published in the Tribune.

“It seems to me the chances are pretty high that all of the deaths in the last month and a half are probably from COVID-19,” said Kathy Henrie, whose mother lived at Life Care Center up until her death.

Catherine Voss tried for weeks to get officials at Life Care Center to both test her mother for COVID-19 and to tell her the extent of the outbreak. Voss also sought answers from officials at Public Health - Idaho North Central District, but had little luck there.

“I should have the right to know what is going on in that building,” said Voss, a resident of Apache Junction, Ariz. “What the hell is going on in that building? Nobody is saying anything.”

On Friday, Goin issued another statement in response to questions from the Tribune. In it, she said all residents have now been tested and employees are being screened twice per shift.

“Our number of positive cases are being appropriately reported to all the required agencies, and we remain in consistent communication with residents’ family members,” she said. “We are strictly following guidelines from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Idaho state Department of Health and the local department of health to protect the safety of our residents and associates.”

Goin did not respond to direct questions seeking results of the testing and the number of COVID-19 related deaths at the nursing home. She acknowledged the center is “struggling with the virus.”

“Most of our residents have been with us for many years, and our associates are providing care as they would for their own family members. We’re a family here, and we remain committed to providing quality care as we fight COVID-19.”

‘I don’t understand why we can’t know what the real numbers are’

Marsha Ellis, Norma Jean Miles and Edna McBride died at Life Care Center in the past month. Ellis and Miles were not tested for the disease, but their death certificates list COVID-19 as the cause or contributing factor. McBride tested positive this week, just days before she died.

Ellis was 75 when she died April 11. Before the illness, she was vibrant and lucid. Her daughter Martha Ellis, of Moscow, said her mother kept her spirits even as she fought the disease that progressed with a speedy cruelty. The mother and daughter even joked about her cough as her health was failing.

“I said maybe you have rabies, and she was laughing. She thought it was hilarious,” Martha Ellis said.

Norma Jean Miles was 90 and suffered severely from dementia. She died April 4.

“She had no quality of life,” said her daughter Kathy Henrie, of Lewiston. “She seemed happy there though. I was very happy with the care she got at Life Care. The social worker was kind and understanding, the nurses were on top of things and the CNAs were friendly — and they really seemed to like my mom, even though much of what she said didn’t make sense.

“I don’t want this to come across as critical of their care. I just don’t understand why we can’t know what the real numbers are there.”

Edna McBride, formerly of Clarkston, was 100 when she died Thursday night. Catherine Voss battled with Life Care Center for weeks to get her mother tested for COVID-19. Like Henrie, she praised the health care providers at the center. Her anger is reserved for the facility’s executives.

“My mom has been there for 10 years. Those employees are part of her family. They love her, and she loves them. I believe they take excellent care of her,” she said. “No way do I want anybody to think I am blaming them in the least. I have the utmost admiration and gratitude for them.”

Voss was on the phone almost continually with Life Care Center staff, imploring them to test her mother and asking them to reveal more about what was happening there. She was initially notified a resident had the illness and later died but was told nothing else.

“For three weeks I have made over 100 calls to Life Care Center or Life Care Center to me. I only knew when the article came out (April 18 in the Tribune) about the 11 employees and eight patients. I was never told about the other cases.”

She has since been told by caregivers that nine more patients, including her mother, tested positive, for a total of 28 cases associated with the nursing home. Goin did not respond directly to questions from the Tribune seeking confirmation of that number.

On Monday there were 10 new cases in Nez Perce County. Carol Moehrle, Public Health — Idaho North Central District director, said many of them were at Life Care Center. Health District employees declined to provide further information.

Voss is now distrustful of anything she is told by higher-ups at the facility and is seeking intervention.

“I want the CDC in there, any federal people I can get in there. We have another Kirkland, Washington, happening in Lewiston, Idaho.”

The Life Care Center in Kirkland was the epicenter of COVID-19 cases in Washington state for some time. Ultimately, it saw more than 120 cases and at least 37 deaths.

Voss believes she may have had the chance to remove her mother from the Lewiston home if she tested negative. She asked for a test after learning COVID-19 was at the facility and her mother had a fever.

“I was told no,” she said. “I was told they would continue to treat her as if she had the virus.”

After McBride developed a cough, Voss again asked for a test but was denied. The cough became bad enough that McBride was sent to Tri-State Memorial Hospital for a chest X-ray. She was tested there, but the testing vial leaked and it was unable to be processed at a lab.

Voss asked for a re-test once her mother was back at Life Care Center but said she again was denied. She later was told her mother, who has dementia, declined to be tested.

Finally, a test was conducted last week. It too failed, because of a leak. The test was repeated Monday and showed McBride to have the illness.

Throughout the process, Voss became more and more frustrated.

“I got to the point where these people tell me something, and I ask for it in writing,” she said.

‘I wish they had protected her better’

Martha Ellis and her boyfriend, Don Scheley, visited her mother, Marsha Ellis, on March 13, the last day Life Care Center of Lewiston was open to visitors.

“I gave her a kiss, I was so close to her. So that was the last time … ,” she said, her words trailing off.

After that, Martha kept in touch with her mother by telephone.

“I started hearing her cough, and it would be like clearing her throat,” said Ellis. “She kept saying ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ I was getting really worried and was asking her more questions.”

She asked her mother how much she was allowed to move around.

“She said they were allowed to go into the hallway and I was horrified, but I didn’t want to scare her.”

A few days later, her mother was put in isolation.

“Mom is still telling us she feels good (at the time), but the cough is getting worse and worse,” she said.

Martha Ellis tried to learn more about the outbreak there. She was informed on March 28 that a resident had tested positive for COVID-19, but she couldn’t get any additional information.

“They wouldn’t tell me how many were sick, just that it was in the facility,” she said.

Days before Marsha Ellis died, a nurse saw her reaching for something and asked about it. Ellis, who was now gravely ill, said she was stretching out for her mother. When Martha Ellis was told of the incident, she arranged for a photo of her mom as a young child and her mother to be delivered to Life Care Center. That was April 10.

“They allowed me to put it in a plastic bag and everything, and then we got a phone call that she died on (April 11),” she said. “It’s hard, because my mom had such a bad life. She was put in an orphanage when she was 5 because her mom died. So she always wanted her mom. So I did send her that picture, and I don’t know if she was aware enough to see it.”

After her mother died, Martha worried that she would not be counted among the victims of the virus.

“They kept telling us, the doctor said there was no tests, but they knew it was in the facility,” she said. “That really pissed me off. Are they even going to count her?”

Ellis has since learned COVID-19 is listed on her mother’s death certificate.

“I am angry,” she said. “I know the facility — they are really nice, I will say that. They are caring, but I wish they had protected her better. I don’t like that they let them into the hallway, you know.”

Then there is the doubt that creeps in because of the stealthiness of the disease. Health officials emphasize that some people are asymptomatic and can spread the illness without knowing. Martha Ellis said she wonders: Is it possible she infected her mother?

“I feel so bad, because it could have been that I passed it to her,” she said. “My boyfriend didn’t get that close, he sat on a chair. I gave her a hug and kiss.”

On that last visit, Don had not been feeling well for some time. He suffers from COPD and became ill in February. He was eventually put on oxygen to help him breathe but was assured by doctors he did not have COVID-19. But he was not tested.

“They told me I didn’t show any symptoms, and I hadn’t been around anybody. I didn’t have a dry cough. I don’t know if I had a fever. I had chills real bad a couple of nights in a row. I had no way of checking my temperature. I wasn’t concerned at that point though. I just thought I had the flu,” he said.

During the visit to Life Care Center, he was screened, asked questions and his temperature was taken. He passed and was let in. But he kept his distance from Marsha.

‘I just think the truth needs to be out there’

Norma Jean Miles wasn’t tested either. Henrie, her daughter, isn’t bothered by that, saying it wouldn’t have altered the course of her care.

But she, too, wants to know if her mother was officially counted among Life Care Center of Lewiston’s COVID-19 victims. Her death certificate lists it as the cause.

She was notified March 26, by a guardian for her mother, of the presence of COVID-19 at Life Care Center and that it looked like the illness was contained.

On March 30, she learned the patient died. On April 1, her mother was running a fever. The next day she was sleeping a lot and still had a low fever.

On April 4, her mother was given morphine to ease anxiety over breathing difficulty. Henrie was told her mother’s legs were mottled, a sign of impending death.

She was given the chance to visit but hesitated because of a bout with cancer that left her lungs compromised.

“I didn’t go right over, and they called two hours later and she was gone,” she said. “She didn’t have any quality of life. She didn’t like what she had become, so for her in some ways it was a blessing. But for a lot of us, it’s a scary thing.”

Henrie would like to see the facility and health district be more forthcoming.

“I understand the need to protect people’s privacy. I think we have gone almost to the other side where we are protecting their privacy at the risk of others,” she said. “If I had COVID-19, I don’t think I would care if people knew that I died of it or that I recovered. I just think the truth needs to be out there, so we can understand it and overcome it.”

Whatever is happening at the center, Henrie is thankful that the caregivers continue to show up day after to day, despite the risk, to tend to people like her mother.

“I have to admire those workers still going into that building,” she said. “What would we do without them?”

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.