A lawsuit filed by Renton Healthcare Rehabilitation Center alleges that a doctor treated patients while having symptoms of COVID-19 and may have resulted in numerous cases and nine deaths.
On March 11, a doctor working with Swenson Healthcare, a post-acute care provider that works with facilities throughout the region, alerted her company that she had COVID-19 symptoms. The owner, Darren Swenson allegedly told her to continue working.
She then worked at the Renton Healthcare, a nursing home primarily serving elderly and those with serious health challenges, with patients from 79 to 91 with various ailments, including chronic heart failure. She did not alert the center of her symptoms and filled out a questionnaire denying any symptoms.
That doctor, Dr. Nishita Bhumkar, then went to get tested for COVID-19 on March 16— it came back positive a week later. Her employer, Swenson Healthcare, ignored it’s own internal policies on self-quarantining 21 days, and told Bhumkar she could return to work, according to the lawsuit.
She did, returning to the Renton facility one day after receiving the positive diagnosis. She worked with patients ranging from ages 55 to 99. Her employer did not inform Department of Health or Renton Healthcare, according to the lawsuit.
The Renton Healthcare Rehabilitation Center heard about her diagnosis through a third party and confronted Bhumkar, who told them of the positive result and said she had been following her employer, Svenson Healthcare’s, orders.
Lawyers defending Svenson Healthcare told The Seattle Times that the Renton facility will not be able to prove the COVID-19 cases were caused by the Svenson Healthcare doctor, and the complaint includes false statements. The lawyer also stated guidelines at the time allowed someone who tested positive to work after a period of being symptom free, and argued that Bhumkar had no symptoms.
As of May when the lawsuit was filed, at least 52 residents and 47 staff members at Renton Rehabilitation had tested positive for COVID-19. Nine residents have died, according to data from Public Health – Seattle King County. The positive cases include the nurse who assisted Bhumkar during her rounds and majority of her patients and roommates, according to the lawsuit.
It is still to be decided if the case will go to arbitration or be heard in court.