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COVID-19 victim ‘really loved being a nurse’

Cindy Locklear was a nurse at Marlborough Hills Rehabilitation and Health Care Center.

As COVID-19 descended on the state in March, Cindy Locklear, a longtime licensed practical nurse, volunteered to treat infected patients at Marlborough Hills Rehabilitation & Health Care Center.

It cost Locklear her life, her daughter said Saturday.

“My mom volunteered to go on that unit because she loved taking care of the residents. She really loved being a nurse," said Locklear’s daughter, Kandi Oliveira. “She knew her patients needed her, so she was there.”

Locklear, 62, died Monday in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the university campus of UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Oliveira said.

She learned she had the virus on April 27 and was hospitalized the next day. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital, Oliveira said, after her grandson, Ryan Johnson, found Locklear unconscious inside their Northborough home after he returned from working an overnight shift.

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Oliveira said her mother told her and another relative that Marlborough Hills didn’t have enough protective equipment for its workers, and that staff were sharing and reusing masks, and were reusing gowns. She said she has reported the facility to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal regulator, and asked the company to pay for Locklear’s funeral expenses. The nursing home called Saturday afternoon, Oliveira said, and promised to pay for the funeral.

“Her job did nothing to protect her,” Oliveira said. “She wouldn’t be dead if she had been protected at work.”

An OSHA spokesman said Saturday night he was looking into the Globe’s inquiry about the facility.

Larry Santilli, president and chief executive of Athena Health Care Systems, which owns the facility, issued a statement Saturday in which he offered condolences and said the company planned to pay for Locklear’s funeral expenses.

“Cindy Locklear was a hero, plain and simple, and we are devastated by her passing," he said. "Cindy cared for some of our most vulnerable patients. She was devoted not only to caring for her patients, but lifting up their spirits -- and she made a difference in so many people’s lives.”

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Twenty-one patients have died of the virus at Marlborough Hills, 25 patients are sick now, and 23 have recovered from it, according to Tim Brown, a company spokesman. The state said the facility reported its first case of COVID-19 on April 7.

The facility has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and requires staff wear the gear when they interact with patients with COVID-19, Brown said.

The city of Marlborough said 30 people have died there of COVID-19, according to figures posted Friday.

Mayor Arthur Vigeant said the city asked the state to check on the facility earlier this month because so many patients from there were being hospitalized. The state Department of Public Health later told the city, he said, that Marlborough Hills was adequately staffed and stocked with personal protective equipment.

On April 20, one of Locklear’s friends sent her a text message and urged her to use caution, according to the exchange, which was reviewed by the Globe.

“Please be care,” the friend wrote. “Stay safe.”

At one point, Locklear and five other workers posed for a photo inside Marlborough Hills, their faces obscured by blue masks and yellow gowns draped over their clothing.

During the third week of April, Locklear was experiencing migraines and feeling unwell so she stayed home from work, Oliveira said.

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On April 24, she said Locklear learned that a fellow nurse at Marlborough Hills had tested positive for the virus. The next day, Locklear’s friend sent a text message. “How you holding up?”

“Not feeling well right now,” Locklear wrote back.

On April 26, Locklear went to a drive-through site at UMass Memorial-Marlborough Hospital to get tested for COVID-19, Oliveira said. The next day, she learned she had the virus.

Oliveira and Johnson visited Locklear at her bedside on Mother’s Day to say goodbye. They wore protective gear to enter the room where Locklear was connected to a ventilator.

“She was just lying there with tubes everywhere,” Oliveira said.

Locklear’s ventilator was turned off the following day, she said.

She always said she wanted quality not quantity,” said Oliveira, who was Locklear’s health care proxy. “If she couldn’t live the way she wanted to live, she didn’t want to.”

While patients in long-term care facilities represent 61 percent of the 5,705 people who have died of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, the death toll among the industry’s workforce is unclear and hasn’t been publicly disclosed by the state.

Among the dead are Maria Krier, a nurse at Life Care Center of Littleton, Kettely Desire, a certified nursing assistant at Alliance at West Acres in Brockton, and Catherine Drouin, a social worker at Palm Center, a nursing home in Chelmsford.

As of Saturday, 17,989 cases of COVID-19 were reported among patients and workers in long-term-care facilities. Massachusetts discloses the names of long-term-care and assisted living facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks, but doesn’t provide the precise number of cases or fatalities at individual sites. States like New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire publicly disclose the number of deaths at each facility.

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Marlborough Hills is among about 115 long-term care facilities who have designated separate space to isolate and care for COVID-19 positive patients and have the capacity to admit infected patients who require ongoing care, the state said.

Marlborough Hills, which has 196 beds, has an overall rating of “much below average,” according to the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and was listed in February as a candidate for an agency program for facilities with a history of serious quality issues.

Locklear’s family gathered Friday evening at Collins Funeral Home in Marlborough to say goodbye. A group of nurses who worked with Locklear were among the mourners, Oliveira said.

Seashells that Oliveira found in Locklear’s bedroom were scattered around the coffin, a reminder of Sanibel Island in Florida, a placed she loved to visit.

A photograph provided to the Globe shows her hair was perfectly coiffed and red, pink, and white roses rested on her arms. Mourners were given a card with a photograph of Locklear working at Marlborough Hills on one side and a poem known as “Footprints” on the other.

The poem ends with God explaining footprints in the sand to a man. “During your times of trial and suffering, when you see one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

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Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.