A communication breakdown left members of a local family out of the loop for a full week while their relative was on a ventilator after apparently catching COVID-19 at the Bakersfield nursing home where an outbreak of the disease has killed almost a dozen people.
On Wednesday, the same day some in the family learned he was on a ventilator, they were also asked to decide quickly whether to take the 76-year-old off the ventilator, allowing him to die, because his condition was not improving.
They chose to remove him from the breathing machine, and a family representative said former restaurant worker Clyde Cooper died at about 10:45 p.m. Wednesday at Bakersfield Heart Hospital.
Members of the family said they were very upset at having received no word of Cooper's hospitalization May 4.
After learning of the outbreak from a local news report, his niece Ucedrah Osby said she got no reply to daily messages left at Kingston Healthcare Center, 329 Real Road. She said she called for more than a week asking for Cooper's medical status.
Kingston said by email Thursday afternoon that it could not go into detail about the case without the family's consent, but that it had not stonewalled Cooper's family.
In compliance with government regulations, it said, Kingston notifies the emergency contact on record when there is a change in a resident's medical condition such as hospitalization.
"Kingston Healthcare is following all county, state and federal guidelines with regards to family notification," it wrote.
The Heart Hopsital said it made multiple calls based on the family contact list it received from Kingston. It said Osby was not listed.
Osby said hospital personnel told her they had only been able to reach Cooper's son, who did not share or take action on the information and referred them to a relative who has been "out of the picture for a very long time" and could not be reached.
Cooper's son could not be reached for comment.
Osby said a contract worker at Kingston told her the nursing home kept two different lists of emergency contacts: one for the nurse's station, which did not have Osby's information, and one for the social worker, which did list Osby.
"If they had up-to-date technology then people could have found out sooner," said Osby. "They could have contacted me.”
Her cousin Donovan Curtis said Cooper was his favorite uncle. He only learned Cooper was sick Wednesday and his preference was to keep him on the ventilator.
"He's a happy person," he said, adding that he had visited Cooper earlier this year, before the quarantine.
"They should have called us days ago — weeks ago," Curtis said. He said his sister had also been listed at Kingston as a family contact but that she had not been notified of Cooper's hospitalization.
Osby said Cooper lived at Kingston for about three years, not counting some time spent there years earlier. Both times he was moved there after suffering a stroke, she said.
Osby, an addiction specialist and commissioner on the Kern County Parks and Recreation Commission, said she tried very hard Monday to find out her uncle's status after her previous efforts to get an update from Kingston were unsuccessful.
After calling county and state officials she finally was able to speak with a social worker at Kingston who told her Cooper was in the hospital.
"But they wouldn’t tell me why. They gave me the runaround and said that somebody would call me the next morning," she said.
But she said the nurse consultant who called Tuesday couldn't tell her why Cooper was in the hospital. Not until 8 a.m. Wednesday did she learn, from a Heart Hospital representative, that her uncle was on a ventilator and doing badly.
News that Cooper had COVID-19 and that it might make sense to take him off a ventilator devastated the family, she said.
"I feel helpless," she said. "It’s been nine days of trying to check on him and I just, I feel powerless.”
He seemed to be doing well when she visited him at Kingston a few months ago, Osby said.
“Things were fine. We laughed. We talked," she said. "Everything was great.”
She said Cooper had three brothers and one sister.
State records show 49 workers at Kingston and 67 residents were confirmed positive Thursday for COVID-19. They show 11 residents there have died of the disease.
Government records also show the 184-bed skilled-nursing facility has in recent years received patient-care complaints and citations at rates well above the state and federal averages.