As It Happens

Woman holds sign outside quarantined U.S. care home in desperate bid to find out about husband

Bonnie Holstad says she wasn't able to get any information about her sick husband until she marched down to the Washington senior facility at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak and stood outside the window with a sign.

Bonnie Holstad says she can't get answers about spouse at Washington facility with COVID-19 outbreak

Bonnie Holstad holds a sign explaining concern for her husband, Ken Holstad, who is a resident at Life Care Center of Kirkland, Wash. (David Ryder/Reuters)
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Bonnie Holstad says she wasn't able to get any information about her sick husband until she marched down to the Washington long-term care facility at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak and stood outside the window with a sign.

"I can't believe I did that, but I did," she told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I was ready to do whatever I could."

Her husband Ken is a patient at Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., a Seattle suburb, where four residents have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The facility is under quarantine and is not allowing visitors. 

Holstad's husband is there to recover from a broken hip, she said. He also has Parkinson's and mild dementia, and recently developed a cough.

She says she spent a day and a half trying to reach someone at Life Care about her husband's health. By Sunday, she was so desperate for answers that she held up a sign with his name and room number.

"No one at Life Care is answering the phones," it read, in part. "He needs to be attended to ... what is his temperature?"

She says it was a "ridiculous step" to take — but it's the only thing that worked.

She got the attention of a nurse who checked his temperature and relayed the information to her. He's not running a fever, she said, one of the major signs of COVID-19

"My job in any medical situation is to be his advocate, and I need to be with him to see how he is behaving and how his body is reacting, whether that's to pain or treatment or whatever. And I'm not able to do that," she said.

"So it's really frustrating. I do not know how long he will be in this quarantine state."

Life Care Center did not respond to a request for comment about Holstad's complaints or its procedures for communicating with family members during the outbreak. 

Holstad waits for assistance after being unable to get through by phone to the long-term care facility. (David Ryder/Reuters)

A statement on Life Care's website says it has suspended all visits and new admissions while it attempts to contain the virus. 

"Current residents and associates continue to be monitored closely, specifically for an elevated temperature, cough and/or shortness of breath. Any resident displaying these symptoms is placed in isolation. Associates are screened prior to beginning work and upon leaving," the statement reads. 

"We are also following infection control recommendations, including proper hand-washing techniques and wearing masks, gowns and gloves when caring for any symptomatic patients. All of these decisions have been made based on recommendations from the state health department and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]."

A resident in his 70s died over the weekend at Life Care after contracting coronavirus, becoming the fourth person at the facility to die from the virus as of Monday, Reuters reports.

I cannot get answers as to why everyone there is not being tested. In my opinion, they're sitting in a Petri dish.- Bonnie Holstad, wife of patient at Life Care Center

Another 27 residents and 25 staff members were reporting symptoms, which can be similar to that of the common flu.

An employee walks outside Life Care Center, which is on lockdown amid a coronavirus outbreak. (David Ryder/Reuters)

Holstad says she understands why she can't see her husband in person. She says she has empathy for staff at the facility, who she suspects are overwhelmed by the crisis. 

But still, she says she needs answers. 

"I still do not know how long he will be quarantined. I do not know if they're testing his respiratory system. ... I do not know how often they're taking temperatures," she said.

"I cannot get answers as to why everyone there is not being tested. In my opinion, they're sitting in a Petri dish."

What's more, she says nobody has been able to tell her what precautions she or other family members who visited the facility before the quarantine should take.

"There's no instructions for us," she said. "It's somewhat of a nightmare."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Bonnie Holstad produced by Sarah Cooper.