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Ex-Nurse Blows Whistle On Alleged COVID-19 Failures At Lincolnwood Assisted Living Facility

LINCOLNWOOD, Ill. (CBS) -- A growing number of coronavirus cases inside an assisted living facility has left workers afraid for themselves and their residents.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini spoke to a nurse who worked there and digs into allegations the facility failed to properly report COVID-19 cases to the Cook County Health Department. Cook County has also now launched a full investigation.

"They didn't have to die. They may have had a few more months, a few more years and that haunts me," said a nurse, who eventually left her job at The Carrington assisted living center in north suburban Lincolnwood. The nurse no longer wants to be indentified for this story.

"It was total chaos," she  said. "We didn't have enough PPE. We were told to not chart certain things. We weren't kept in the loop on certain things. There was no transparency, and it got the point where I feared for my physical health."

Those fears might be well-founded, despite the Illinois Department of Public Health website showing no reported COVID-19 cases here. In fact, there really is an outbreak. The CBS 2 Investigators obtained records from the facility showing there are as many 29 virus cases: 17 residents and 12 staff members. Four residents have died.

"We knew there were positive patients, but we did not see any of that reflected on the website," said the nurse, who wants to know why the virus data is missing from the state's public page. "I'm frustrated, and it's terrifying for me because even though I'm not there, I worry about the residents and the staff."

She said there are other problems, too. As the pandemic was making news, there were issues inside the facility. She documented them, including when she recorded video of a dining room infested with ants on March 14.

"The floor was infested to the point that they were crawling inside the cabinets. I spent hours cleaning before attending to my residents."

Garbage with used medical supplies, like gloves and garments, were left in piles in hallways, the nurse said.

"The gloves were not properly disposed of. They were just thrown on the floor. [Heath care workers] were in a rush to get out of the rooms because they didn't have the proper [personal protective equipment]. So they just discard wherever, whenever. It was very scary because they are disease-carrying."

She said there was a lack of testing early on as residents grew sick, showing symptoms as far back as March 15. Those patients were not tested. The facility went on lockdown the next day, not allowing visitors.

"The biggest thing is not even caregivers or close family members are allowed in. So they don't know what's going on and they don't see what is really happening," the nurse said.

Some of the information the CBS 2 Investigators obtained, included warnings sent to multiple members of management by a healthcare worker, urging them to stop serving meals to large groups of patients gathered in dining rooms. Sources say as many as 20 to 30 people were in close proximity—sometimes a few feet apart --at any one time.

"And that was concerning because it was a Petri dish in there," said the nurse. "That was a disaster."

It's important to note those dining areas were located in the memory care unit on the first floor. The nurse, to her knowledge, said four of those residents have died of COVID-19.

Adding to the nurse's concern, not only was she caring for her patients, she is an ovarian cancer survivor with a compromised immune system. She says she found out March 16 that she was exposed to a female resident who may also have been exposed the virus.

"Two days later, I had a fever of 102. I went to my doctor, and he put me on isolation, When I returned to work, I was negative, thank God, but I returned to work to the same conditions."

When she returned to work, she says she learned the female resident had died. But she says the woman was never officially tested for COVID-19.

"They really deserved better and a lot of them were really scared," she said. "I got very close to the residents, and I know two personally that I really cared for who passed away. It's really upsetting because I got really close to them and they deserved better, and I know that and I have some guilt. I wish I would have maybe spoke up sooner."

On Thursday, the Cook County Health Department said it is launching a probe. They want to know why it took them eight days to learn by the outbreak, and they also want to know why they found out through a private lab and not the Carrington itself.

Officials at the Carrington said they were calling in cases and leaving messages on the county health department's hotline. They claim they did not know they could fax the report.

The county says that is not true and not what their records show, and said there are no calls from the Carrington.

The investigation was launched Thursday.

Also Thursday, the county said it called from the facility and were not given the right numbers in terms of COVID-19 infections at the Carrington. The numbers CBS 2 received were about double the number the county received on the phone.

The county further said the deaths were missing from the Carrington's reports, and it also did not know about the staff members who had tested positive for COVID-19.

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