LITTLETON — A close-up photo of Maria Krier’s smiling face on her Facebook page is surrounded by the words, “I can’t stay home … I’m a health care worker.”
Saffie Fornah, who previously worked with Krier at River Terrace Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Lancaster, remembers this dedication.
“We all work because we need the money, but Maria, that’s her passion,” Fornah said.
Krier, 59, of Lunenburg, was employed as a nurse at the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley and was one of the first to speak out about the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
On April 10 at 11:59 p.m., Krier died from COVID-19.
To date, 10 residents at the Littleton nursing home have died from the virus. In numbers released by Life Care in Littleton last Saturday, 75 nursing home employees are out of work sick. Of that total, 14 tested positive for the virus, and 17 were out with orders from doctors.
Krier, who started her job at Life Care in Littleton in November 2019, told her family she did not feel safe working during the crisis, according to Krier’s granddaughter Jayde Dries.
“She kept saying that she knew something was up. She said they were not giving employees the proper protection to be dealing with patients with it. She said they were not given masks or told that the patients being treated had it,” Dries wrote in an email.
Krier talked about finishing her work week and hanging up her scrubs, but by the time her work week ended, Krier had already been exposed.
On March 27, Krier began feeling sick and suspected she had COVID-19 but was unsure if she had been exposed “due to a lack of information from Life Care Center,” according to Dries. Krier was tested on March 29 and the results came back positive on March 31.
“They were suspecting that a patient had it but she didn’t receive any information until she was home with it. They waited until she was home to tell her that her patient had it,” Dries wrote.
On April 1, town health officials said Life Care failed to comply with “lawful and appropriate” instructions from the Board of Health after a patient and staff member tested positive for the virus. On April 3, the National Guard became involved in testing all nursing home residents.
Days later, the Littleton Board of Selectmen, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, and state Rep. James Arciero of Westford, sent a letter to Life Care Centers of America President Beecher Hunter calling for transparency at the nursing home. Selectmen Co-Chair Cindy Napoli said since the letter was sent, the level of communication has increased.
Fornah said she learned about Krier’s concerns with her new employer through the news. She described Krier as someone who was outspoken and kind.
“Maria always smiled, She never got mad,” Fornah said. “Even when things got overwhelmed.”
She said Krier was an overnight supervisor at the Lancaster nursing home and one day bought the entire staff breakfast from McDonalds. They worked together for less than a year, but Fornah said she felt they had known each other “for like eternity.”
After Fornah left her job in Lancaster in September 2019 she lost Krier’s phone number. But Fornah said she got back in contact with Krier through Facebook in early March when Fornah found out she was pregnant — a development they both discussed and hoped for when they worked together.
Fornah said Krier was excited and they planned to catch up by phone later. Not long after, Krier was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“And I never got to call her,” Fornah said.
Trahan issued a statement on Saturday, shortly after Krier’s death was announced to the media, describing her as a “hero in our community” for speaking out about what she called questionable practices by the Littleton nursing home amid the pandemic.
“Maria showed tremendous courage when she blew the whistle on the outbreak at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley,” Trahan said. “Her urgent concern for her fellow nurses and the residents at the facility is a testament to her character and the values that she held.”
Life Care Centers of America — the parent company of Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley — issued a press release about the nurse’s death, stating she became sick two weeks ago. The elderly care company said they were notified she tested positive for COVID-19.
To Dries’ knowledge, no one in her family has spoken with anyone from Life Care.
Eldridge released a statement saying he was “deeply saddened” about Krier’s death. The state senator representing Littleton added health care workers at the facility should have been told about the virus’ spread at the nursing home.
“While the coronavirus pandemic still has a lot of unanswered questions, from my conversations with former Life Care Center employees, symptomatic workers should not have been allowed to return to work, and testing of residents and workers should have happened immediately,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge said he visited the Littleton facility multiple times.
“I know the care, love and attention that the health care workers provide to the residents there, and clearly Marie Krier was a compassionate and dedicated nurse who gave her life while caring for others,” he said. “I hope her heartbreaking death will be a wake-up call for every single stakeholder in our health care system that something is deeply broken.”
Eric Burke, whose mother is a resident of Life Care in Littleton — and tested positive for the virus last week — described Krier’s death as “very tragic.”
“It doesn’t seem like Life Care was prepared for the threat of COVID-19, neither for the residents nor their own staff,” Burke said. “The health and well-being for both didn’t seem to be a priority. And after Maria Krier dies from COVID-19, now Life Care is asking all staff members to be tested? They should have done that immediately after finding out that Maria Krier was on a ventilator.”
Burke criticized the Littleton nursing home for failing to notify him that COVID-19 was sweeping through the facility. He said he is concerned about her well-being at the nursing home.
“We found out like everyone else,” he said. “Through the media. One of my brothers and I went to visit our mother right before they stopped allowing visitors. Our mother had just gotten over a cold and was fine. We kept in phone contact with her during that time, but my mother has memory issues and really wasn’t aware of what was going on at Life Care in regards to COVID-19 and the residents that had already passed away. We had to tell her.”
On April 7, Burke said his family found out their mother tested positive for the virus. Her only symptom was a slight fever. He has been in daily contact with her since to monitor her health.