Nursing home did not warn worker who was taken hostage in active shooter drill, lawsuit alleges

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A nurse at a Life Care Centers of America facility in Colorado was not notified that she would be threatened and taken hostage by a gunman as part of an active shooter drill, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Michelle Meeker, RN, was working a shift at the LCCA Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale, CO, in October 2013, when her supervisor instructed her to approach a “suspicious” man in the day room, the legal complaint states. When Meeker did so, the man brandished a gun and forced her into an empty room while she “begged for her life,” according to the complaint.

The man explained that he was Officer Michael Zimmerman with the Carbondale police and that the event was a drill; however, Meeker was not sure whether to believe him, the court document states.

Zimmerman allegedly took another worker hostage and forced the two employees to communicate a “code word” to other staff members, one of whom became disturbed and called 911. However, the police had been instructed to ignore any calls from the facility during the drill, the charges contend.

At the end of the drill, Heritage Park leaders critiqued Meeker's response and said she should have resisted or made more noise, even though she had never received any training in how to respond to an active shooter, the complaint alleges. Meeker — in “complete shock” — reportedly then was told to finish her shift.

Meeker says she subsequently experienced severe physical, emotional and psychological distress and had to resign. Her superiors told her that “the facility has to run those kinds of drills,” the complaint states.

The drill was approved by the corporate office of Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America, which has a “pattern and practice” of doing these sort of exercises at facilities nationwide, the lawsuit alleges.

“As part of our ongoing focus on safety, we conduct routine training drills to prepare for various scenarios such as fire and natural disasters,” Heritage Park Executive Director Robert Baker said in a statement emailed to McKnight's by LCCA's corporate office.

The October 2013 drill occurred “in conjunction with the local police department,” Baker acknowledged. He noted that the facility cannot comment on pending litigation but is working to “resolve the situation.”

“In the meantime, Heritage Park Care Center remains focused on providing quality care to our patients and residents,” he said.

Meeker is seeking compensatory, punitive and actual economic damages and has requested a jury trial.

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