Law Firm that Takes On Police Shooting Victims Targets Nursing Home after COVID-19 Death

Costell Akrie in happier times

By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

OAKLAND – A law firm often known for taking on government in the courts on behalf of police shooting victims – most of them people of color – Monday took aim at nursing homes, which are quickly becoming COVID-19 death hotspots around the U.S. and the world. Especially for African-Americans.

The Law Offices of John Burris said Monday that the operators of Gateway Care and Rehabilitation Center in Hayward may not just be civilly liable but criminally liable in the death of an 87-year-old veteran, who died after a COVID-19 infection.

Costell Akrie, a Korean War veteran, died at Gateway April 4 after being sent there for physical rehabilitation by Kaiser Hospital March 4.

Burris confirmed that when Akrie left Kaiser he didn’t have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms.

“The circumstances are strange,” said Burris, noting that the Gateway has been in trouble before for sub-standard care. But this time, Akrie died, and so did eight other patients – in all, more than 60 patients and staff have been sickened by the coronavirus at the care center.

“These kinds of numbers justify an investigation,” charged Burris, who has filed a complaint calling for just that investigation with State of California. He said the state has already confirmed it will act.

Nursing homes and rehabilitation centers have now been identified not only in the U.S., but around the world, as the major hot spots for COVID-19, which appears to kill older, over 65 people with absolute impunity. Nursing homes have become killing fields.

In Gateway’s case, the facility has been accused of “compelling” sick employees to work, and they in turn passed on the virus to patients like Akrie.

If true, Burris said it would be a “criminal” matter, saying it will alert the area district attorney.

“Notwithstanding the national epidemic and its seemingly disproportionate impact on African American men, something must be wrong when an African American elderly man enters a nursing care facility for treatment of one condition and later comes out dead with an entirely different condition,” said Burris.

Citing recent news reports, Burris said that if they were true, “Gateway Center was understaffed, without the necessary protective gear such as masks and gloves, and the sick staff was compelled to work…it is unconscionable. It’s elder abuse.”

Attorney Adante Pointer said at a Monday news conference via “Zoom” with Akrie’s family that “Gateway handed Mr. Akrie a death sentence.”

Gateway “pressured staff to work when they knew they were sick; allowed them to work without protective clothing…that is criminal negligence,” charged Pointer, adding “this should not happen. It’s unconscionable.”

Akrie’s wife of 65 years, Diane, said the ordeal began Feb. 16 when her husband was rushed to the hospital “when Kaiser refused to give him his diabetes medication.” Less than two months later her partner was gone.

“This is tragic and preventable because of a mistake,” she said, noting that the “virus killed him” but “it wasn’t the root cause.

Diane Akrie said that they were told later that others tested positive at the facility, but that her husband was in a room by himself most of the time.

“He must have caught it from the staff. I was told that the staff had not been tested. I never saw staff wear masks,” said the widow, adding that she wasn’t able to see her husband over the last four days before he died.

“I never got to say goodbye,” she said, describing her late husband as caring person who worked three jobs while going to college. He wound up with two Associate degrees, two B.A. degrees and one Master’s degree and was the first Black manager at United Airlines.

“We believe that Hayward’s Gateway Rehabilitation should be closed, and the owners may be subject to criminal prosecution,” said Akrie’s son Scott.

The virus breakout at Gateway is the largest in the Bay Area. The skilled nursing facility advertises that it offers “a variety of therapies and care services to help you regain your independence,” with “skilled nurses, therapists and licensed care professionals…available to guide you through your personalized therapy (and) will help you achieve your personal goals.”

However, it’s “Medicare” rating on NursingHomes.com is three of five stars, and staff and nursing grades were just one out of five stars.

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