(Update: A judge dismissed these charges in October, 2023. Read that story on Senior Housing News’ sister publication, Memory Care Business.)
Prosecutors in Los Angeles have announced charges against Silverado CEO Loren Shook and two other company leaders in connection with a Covid-19 outbreak associated with the death of 14 people at a community in 2020.
Shook was charged in addition to Jason Russo, who worked as the community’s administrator at the time; and Kim Butrum, who is senior vice president of clinical services at Silverado.
The trio faces 13 felony counts of elder endangerment and five felony counts of violation causing death. The Irvine, California-based senior living operator also faces charges as an overall entity.
Silverado Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing Jeff Frum told Senior Housing News that the senior living operator denies all of the charges.
“Silverado’s top priority is and always has been providing world-class care, respect and dignity to people living with dementia and a caring environment for our associates,” read a statement Frum shared with SHN. “We deny all charges filed against us — they are baseless and egregiously contradict the facts. We look forward to presenting our case during the legal process.”
The statement continued: “We will always grieve the loss of the residents to the pandemic and the frontline hero who cared for them. We have taken the pandemic extremely seriously since the start. We recognized Covid-19’s unprecedented threat to society, particularly for people living with dementia and their caregivers. Silverado was a leader in developing protocols for people living with dementia and many of these same protocols became standards for the entire memory care industry.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced the charges at a press conference Tuesday. He said the charges came after a two-and-a-half year investigation into the Silverado community initially prompted by the Covid-related death of one of the community’s staff members.
“The investigation revealed that the Silverado management team was aware of the risks associated with admitting a new resident from a high-risk area and failed to follow the appropriate procedures to protect their employees and the vulnerable people in their care,” Gascón said in a press release announcing the charges. “These careless decisions created conditions that needlessly exposed Silverado staff and its residents to serious injury and – tragically – death.”
The case, which has already garnered headlines in national news outlets, is yet another Covid-related challenge for Silverado, which in the past has faced a lawsuit and general ire from some residents and their families over its pandemic response.
Depending on the outcome, the case has widespread — even possibly alarming — implications for operators all across the country, legal experts told Senior Housing News Wednesday.
Shook is the first executive of a nationally known private-pay senior living operator to face charges for pandemic response. But he may not be the last, at least if the case in Los Angeles is a sign of more like it to come, the legal experts told SHN.
Gascón’s office did not immediately respond to a question regarding whether it is undertaking any other similar investigations of other senior living operators.
Charges stem from pandemic’s earliest days
In court filings obtained by Senior Housing News, the DA’s office alleges that Shook, Russo and Butrum “knew or reasonably should have known” that certain actions taken at Silverado Beverly Place in Los Angeles between March 19 and April 19, 2020, would endanger residents and their health.
Prosecutors alleged Silverado and company leaders admitted a new resident from a psychiatric unit in New York City, “which was a Covid-19 epicenter at the time.”
Prosecutors also accused the community’s managers of not following “accepted clinical standards” or taking “appropriate steps to quarantine the new resident or require testing prior to admission.”
For example, the prosecutors alleged the Silverado community failed to prohibit move-ins from older adults who in the last 14 days had traveled to areas where Covid cases had been confirmed.
“Upon arrival at the company’s Beverly Place facility in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District, the resident allegedly was not medically assessed for the virus or other conditions,” Gascón’s office wrote.
But the resident started suffering symptoms the following morning, and ultimately tested positive Covid, prosecutors said. They also alleged the resident was not placed into respiratory isolation at the time the symptoms started.
As a result, prosecutors said the community suffered a Covid outbreak that sickened 45 employees and 60 residents.
The outbreak ultimately was connected with the deaths of 13 residents. One staff member also died, 32-year-old Brittany Ringo, whose relatives later filed a lawsuit against Silverado.
“As required by law as required by the protocols at the time, the facility was closed to all outside visitors by Silverado in early March of 2020 — yet despite these protocols, an exception was made to admit a patient from New York,” Gascón said during a press conference Tuesday. “Miss Ringo died from Covid-19 after being exposed while working as a licensed vocational nurse for Silverado when she was directed … to admit this new resident.”
He also said: “We have evidence to support that the protocols were not followed due to financial considerations of accepting this patient from New York.”
Wider industry implications
The legal experts SHN spoke with believe Silverado may have a stronger defense given the operational dysfunction and financial crises of the pandemic’s early days. But they cautioned that it’s not a stretch to imagine another operator facing similar charges.
The charges Silverado faces stemmed from early on in the pandemic, when less was known about Covid-19 and the coronavirus that caused it. Early on in the pandemic, operators had trouble sourcing PPE, with many facing conflicting guidance from local, state and federal regulators.
Memory care operators in particular had challenges stopping the spread of the virus in the earliest stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While Shook is the first senior living CEO to be included in criminal charges, it is not an uncommon practice for prosecutors to do so in other kinds of legal cases, the legal experts said.
In the end, it often comes down to the will of the local regulators or district attorneys to bring such charges. And ultimately that is where the most uncertainty lies, given that these are usually elected officials with specific goals and constituents.