Close up of judge holding gavel

An Oregon nursing home closed by the state after an early 2020 COVID-19 outbreak has reportedly agreed to settle a lawsuit with the families of 13 residents who died.

An outbreak started at the former Healthcare at Foster Creek in Southeast Portland in late March 2020 and was blamed for the deaths of 34 residents before state officials closed the facility that May, according to local media coverage.

The 114-bed nursing home experienced more COVID deaths than any other senior care facility in the state, OregonLive reported. Survivors of affected residents began suing the facility’s owner and manager as early as June 2020, with the legal response growing into three cases representing a total of 13 families.

The lawsuits targeted Foster Creek’s owner, St. Jude Operating Company, and Benicia Senior Living, a management firm that operated the facility. OregonLive reported Friday that the proposed settlement — which must still be finalized by a probate court — would include all plaintiffs and both defendants.

Terms of the confidential settlement were not disclosed.

Benicia Senior Living did not immediately comment on the reported settlement; a staff member told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News that an individual authorized to speak to the media was out of the country.

Sympathies shifting?

It’s unclear what details led to the settlement, but Benicia and St. Jude likely found themselves in a situation increasingly common four years after COVID first struck the US. Given the passage of so much time, jurors may be less likely to remember exactly how little was known about COVID and how it spread, or to understand or empathize with how under-resourced nursing homes were as the nation’s healthcare infrastructure initially focused on the acute care crisis.

A spokeswoman for Benicia told local media that Foster Creek had prepared for COVID with an infection control plan, but its supplies of personal protective gear quickly dwindled.

“We made every effort to provide our staff with more,” the spokeswoman said in 2020. “Our efforts included reaching to the state of Oregon and the state did not help.”

In at least one major case, however, a nursing home inundated by COVID was able to convince a jury of its efforts to care for patients amid impossible circumstances. Life Care Centers of America was found not liable last year for the deaths of two residents at its Kirkland facility, the site of the nation’s first COVID outbreak.

The plaintiffs had argued that the facility should have updated isolation protocols as early as late February, weeks ahead of when federal regulators issued guidance on COVID infection prevention.

Reminding jurors just how little was known about the virus, how it was spread or how to prevent it was a key element of the trial, Life Care officials said after the trial.

“After hearing all the arguments from both sides and reviewing the evidence presented to them, the jury came to the same conclusion that we have understood all along: Our associates at Life Care Center of Kirkland did everything they could to prevent COVID-19 from entering their facility,” Life Care added. “Once it did, they diligently followed the guidance they received from local, state, CDC, and CMS [officials] and fought valiantly to protect and care for their residents.”