A heartbroken family wants to know what happened to their loved one at a local nursing home and are now taking legal action.
Skilled nursing facilities are under intense scrutiny, accounting for nearly half of COVID-19 deaths in Los Angeles County.
The family's calling for reform, policy change and training.
Local news from across Southern California
Kathy Sessinghaus was daddy's girl growing up. She helped him recover from a back surgery, but when he needed more professional care a few years ago, the family placed him in a nursing home.
"We really don't know what happened the last couple weeks of his life really," she said.
She says the last time she visited her father at the Hollywood Premiere Healthcare Center was late February.
On April 1, her mom got a call from the nursing home, which like others across the state had stopped allowing visitors because of COVID-19.
"He wasn't eating or drinking," she said. "He was having trouble breathing. He had a fever. He was confused."
Three days later, 84 year old Vincent Martin died.
"He had health issues," said attorney Anne Marie Murphy, who represents the family in a new lawsuit filed against the facility, its owner and physician. "That's why he was at the nursing home, but he wasn't terminal. It wasn't expected that he was going to die immediately."
"HPHC has been chronically understaffed for years. This set up the perfect storm when the COVID-19 pandemic hit."
At times, there were two nurses assigned to care for about 80 patients.
"This is a facility that has had problems with infection control in the past," Murphy said.
Last June Hollywood Premiere was cited for failing to ensure proper infection controls, according to federal records obtained by the NBCLA I-Team.
During the pandemic, Hollywood Premiere was among the hardest-hit nursing facilities in LA County. The health department's most recent reporting shows 58 residents and 36 staff have tested positive, with 17 deaths related to the coronavirus.
"We actually think those statistics are likely very understated," Murphy said.
The lawsuit also alleges Martin, an Army veteran, tested positive for COVID-19 but the doctor did not mention COVID on the death certificate until this month.
"We are pretty sure that this was not just an excusable mistake," Murphy said.
Messages left for representatives of Hollywood Premiere were not returned.
"Death is inevitable for family members, we all know that," Sessinghaus said. "You know I just always hope that when he passed it was peaceful."