In February and March 2020, Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, made headlines around the world for being the first nursing home in the United States to face an outbreak of COVID-19.
No one living in or working at the facility at the time will ever forget the experience. The disease ravaged the facility and claimed the lives of 39 residents.
On Aug. 28, marking six months since the first positive COVID-19 test, the facility held a touching memorial service honoring those lost to the disease. Due to coronavirus precautions, the service was online-only, with family members of those lost, as well as associates, current residents and their family members, invited to witness the occasion via livestream.
Beecher Hunter, president of Life Care Centers of America, gave a greeting from the company’s headquarters in Tennessee, thanking the associates for their care and service, especially during the difficult days of the Kirkland outbreak.
"Thank you for being who you are," Beecher said. "You are truly God’s servants."
Nancy Butner, vice president of Life Care’s Northwest Division, who dedicated herself to serving at the Kirkland facility during the outbreak, shared from her heart about the experience.
"COVID’s presence was sudden and all-encompassing," Nancy remembered.
Nancy went on to praise the staff for working under the most difficult circumstances to provide care and love to the residents – even as they themselves were getting sick.
But most moving was Nancy’s sharing of who the residents were who were lost. Many of them had lived at the facility for years, and as a former executive director of Life Care Center of Kirkland, Nancy knew many of them personally.
She reflected on a resident who loved to give out chewing gum… a resident who was a superb artist… a younger resident who decided to move in permanently after completing rehabilitation… a resident with quadriplegia who looked after the other residents.
"Their loss is our loss," Nancy said with tears. "It’s my loss."
The facility had 39 candles set up outside in memory of the residents who lost their lives and played a classical guitar rendition of "Amazing Grace" while Rachel Winters, admissions director at the facility, lit each one.
After that, Ellie Basham, executive director, read a scripture and shared that the staff grieves the loss of these residents.
"We have suffered, and we have mourned," said Ellie. "And now, I believe, it is the time for us to begin to heal, the time for us to move forward. It is the time for us to celebrate the lives of the 39 members of our family who we loved and lost, but whose memory will stay with us and inspire us for always."
Todd Fletcher, vice president of Western Operations for Life Care Centers of America, unveiled a plaque that will stay on the facility grounds commemorating the outbreak and the heartbreak it has cost.
"The 39 residents we lost in February and March of this year became heroes in the fight against coronavirus because they taught all of us important lessons about the disease and ultimately saved countless lives across the country," Todd said. "All of America owes a debt to them."
Pastor Brent Fore from First Baptist Church of Rose Hill in Redmond, Washington, gave the closing prayer, praying for peace and comfort for those mourning the loss of the 39 residents. Brent is a volunteer who was very active at the facility prior to the outbreak, leading Bible studies as well as singing and playing his guitar for the residents.
Beecher Hunter closed the service by thanking the associates once again and offering condolences to the families.