DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on those living in nursing homes. So far there are nearly 1,700 COVID-19 deaths linked to nursing homes.
However, deaths at nursing homes unrelated to the virus during the pandemic are tough to track, and one Durham family is speaking out after losing their mom. The family said the COVID-19 pandemic affected the care their mom got.
"Not being able to help her. I feel like we just failed her," Lisa Howze said of her mother's death. Her mom, 71-year-old Palestine Howze, died in a nursing home in April. "I just feel so angry. I can't even grieve from my anger and from my guilt."
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Howze wasn't able to physically be with her mom when she died or during the months leading up to her death.
"I was there to advocate for my mother and her care. When they shut the doors, they stripped me of all of that. They stripped me of my decision making," Howze said.
Howze's mother lived at a nursing and rehabilitation home in Durham and needed total care even before the pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions prevented visitors from nursing homes. During the restrictions, medical records show she suffered from an infected bedsore.
"They were telling me, 'We got this; she's fine.' But that wasn't the case," Howze said.
Records state the infection got worse, and Howze said she and her family asked repeatedly for the facility to send their mom to the emergency room.
"We begged them, you know, 'Please take her, please take her.' A week before her passing they called me and told me that it was infected to the bone, and I'm trying to figure out how we go from...one week that it's healing perfectly to it being infected," Howze said. Her mom never went to the emergency room, instead, she died at the nursing home facility in April, reportedly of dementia.
During the pandemic, many states including North Carolina have passed laws protecting nursing homes and healthcare facilities from civil lawsuits.
Despite the new law, the Howzes filed a lawsuit against the facility.
"When it came time to lock down the facilities to try to keep COVID out. That meant that the families couldn't get into the facilities to advocate for their loved ones and to evaluate and assess how their loved one was doing," attorney Elizabeth Todd with the Law Office of James Scott Farrin said.
Todd is representation the Howzes. She said despite their requests to send their mom to the ER for treatment it didn't happen.
"All her daughters could do was look at her through the window, and they were powerless to do anything to help her," Todd said.
The nursing home where Howze lived provided this statement:
"As you know, this matter involves patient confidentiality issues and is currently in litigation and under investigation, so our ability to respond to your questions is limited. However, while the facility certainly regrets the family's loss, the investigation to date does not reveal any wrongdoing on the part of the facility and its staff as alleged in the lawsuit. Due to the constraints mentioned above, we are unable to comment further at this time. Thank you and stay well."
As the Howzes' lawsuit battles its way through the court system, they continue to speak out in memory of their mother, hoping others continue fighting for their loved one's care.
"I just want them to be held accountable, because my mother is not the only one. I want all nursing homes to be held accountable for the care that they are paid to give," Howze said.