Relatives of the nurse who died Friday after testing positive for the coronavirus say they’re not surprised that she spoke out about the conditions at the Littleton nursing home where she worked.
Maria Krier, 59, a licensed practical nurse, had been hailed as a hero for talking to the media about the situation at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, where 67 residents and 14 employees have tested positive since March 27. Seventeen other employees are presumed to be positive because they’re showing symptoms but have not yet been tested, according to the facility’s website.
In an interview broadcast by WCVB-TV, Krier said, “They discovered this particular woman had it. ... They never told anybody. We kept waiting for the bomb to drop. Like, when are you going to tell us we’re exposed to it?"
Krier told the station that there was “no initiative to protect the workers and the patients.”
Officials at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.
Krier lived in Lunenburg but was originally from Pennsylvania. She came to Massachusetts about 15 years ago to take care of her ailing brother, according to her family.
On March 28, Krier called her sister-in-law, Lorraine Kaczor, and left her a voicemail message, letting her know that she was sick.
“Hey Lorraine, it’s Maria. Listen, I had a patient that has the COVID-19. I’ve been exposed. I have a 102 fever. I’m going in the hospital, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to talk to you guys or not, I don’t know what the protocol is. But keep me in your prayers. Love you. Tell the kids I love them.”
After missing the call, Kaczor called Krier back. What Krier said during that phone call disturbed her.
“She sounded very upset,” said Kaczor.
Kaczor said Krier wasn’t happy with the working conditions at the nursing home, and said the staff couldn’t access masks because they were locked away. “She said they were in a locked closet,” said Kaczor. “I didn’t understand it.”
Krier said she was going to the hospital, and they said goodbye. Little did they know, it would be the last time they would ever speak to each other.
Kaczor said Krier’s death came as a shock to the family.
“It’s devastating, to be honest,” she said. “She loved what she did.”
Krier’s niece, Heather Maloney, is a registered nurse. She said her aunt had told her to be careful while working on the front lines during the pandemic.
“She said, ‘I hope your place is doing the right thing,’" said Maloney. And if not, “Make sure you speak up.”
Maloney described her aunt as boisterous, confident, and full of energy. She was funny and always had plenty of wild stories that she loved to tell. And she was always caring for people — family, friends, and even people she’d just met.
“She cared about everyone she came in contact with. She was always taking care of other people," she said. "She gave too much of herself.”
Maloney said she’s glad her aunt had the courage to discuss her concerns and speak out about what she was dealing with at the nursing home. “As a nurse myself, I’m so proud," she said.
Among the local officials who mourned Krier was US Representative Lori Trahan, who called Krier a “hero in our community," and called for more transparency from the leadership of Life Care.
“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.”
Krier’s granddaughter, Jayde Dries, said her grandmother loved working with patients, but had serious concerns about how Life Care was handling the situation.
“She didn’t want to work for a place that didn’t care about patients and staff enough to give them proper treatment and personal protection,” Dries said.
Krier felt the right decision was to speak out, Dries said.
“She was very worried about everyone involved and felt that if proper measures were going to be taken to treat patients and potentially staff then testing needed to be done,” Dries said.
Dries said her grandmother loved being a nurse.
“She loved seeing the smiles on her patients faces and helping as much as she could,” Dries said.
Krier’s nephew, Kris Kaczor, said he had many fond memories of his aunt.
“She taught me how to fish when I was 4 years old," he said. It’s a pastime he still enjoys to this day.
Kris Kaczor said Krier had been planning to move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to the rest of the family, and she was excited about her 60th birthday, which was coming up in October.
He said they had reserved a hall at the Knights of Columbus in Philadelphia for the afternoon of Oct. 25 to celebrate her birthday. He said she had always hosted parties for other people, and had really been looking forward to having a party of her own.
“She was always about other people," he said.
He’s also not surprised that she came forward to talk about the working conditions at the nursing home.
“She was so dedicated to her work," he said. “She was never afraid to speak her mind. If she had something to say, she’d say it. She didn’t beat around the bush.”
Krier’s brother, Peter, said he was glad his sister spoke out.
“I’m so glad she stepped forward," he said. "She did the right thing. That was my sister.”
He also wonders why more wasn’t done to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the facility. “It should have never happened,” he said.
Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.