Cody widow wins wrongful death suit

CODY — Tana Shively is finally starting to feel some closure regarding the passing of her husband Dan Shively.

“It’s going to take awhile, but yes,” she said.

On Jan. 28, a federal court jury in Billings awarded Cody resident Tana Shively $310,000, finding that Canyon Creek Memory Care of Billings was negligent in the wrongful death of her husband, Dan Shively. The decision brought an end to what Tana Shively described as a “three-year journey.”

“It never was about the money,” Tana Shively said in a phone interview last Friday. “The things they said to me didn’t come true.”

Dan Shively arrived at the facility in December 2018, which was the last time Tana Shively saw her husband alive. According to court documents, Dan Shively was assaulted by another patient four days after being admitted, suffering a fatal hematoma and skull fracture. Five days after that event he passed at the age of 73.

“While the Shively family is pleased with the outcome of this trial, we recognize that it is only the first step,” the family said in a statement. “We believe that the safety, constitutional rights, and basic human rights of our older citizens, especially those who cannot speak up for themselves.”

Shively retired in 2000 after serving as president of Shoshone First Bank for 12 years. According to an Enterprise story from that year, the bank showed solid growth under his leadership, nearly doubling in size.

“He was a great member of the community,” Tana Shively said.

Dan Shively was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in 2017. Tana Shively said her family made attempts to manage his declining mental state for three years before taking him to Canyon Creek.

“I’ll never get over the guilt or grief,” she said.

One of the key elements of the lawsuit was that Canyon Creek failed to assess the patient who contributed to Dan Shively’s death before that patient, Jeff Dowd, was admitted to the facility in October 2018. This assessment is a requirement under a Montana law that prohibits patients prone to violence from being admitted to private care homes. Tana Shively said if the facility had done its due diligence it would have found that Dowd had physically assaulted a staff member from a previous facility and had been removed and refused re-entry from multiple facilities in New Mexico during 2018.

During the trial, a Canyon Creek employee said Dowd’s admission package was incomplete.

But Canyon Creek denied in court documents that it failed to perform an assessment on Dowd, and also said in court filings Dowd had felt threatened by Shively and pushed him, causing Shively to fall and hit his head.

Tana Shively said in court documents Canyon Creek failed to properly supervise her husband and had him eating in the wrong dining area, using utensils when he was not supposed to be.

“They (Canyon Creek) don’t give people the care they need,” Tana Shively said. “All elderly people deserve the right to care.”

Canyon Creek is a limited liability company owned by Koelsch Communities, a company based in Olympia, Wash. Koelsch owns 42 facilities in eight different states. It has no facilities in Wyoming.

In the original filing complaint submitted in August 2020, Tana Shively had requested $1 million in compensation, but the jury decided to award the smaller amount.

“We were very thrilled to get the verdict,” Tana Shively said.

Tana Shively said Canyon Creek had made multiple settlement offers for amounts higher than what she was awarded by the jury. She said she rejected these offers because it would’ve prevented her from shining a light publicly on Canyon Creek, and what led to her husband’s death.

“It was never about the money,” she said.

A wrongful death lawsuit for another patient was also filed against Canyon Creek by Tana Shively’s lawyer, Torger Oaas, in early 2021.

Tana Shively said she wants people to do their research and ask as many questions as possible before admitting family members to long term care facilities like Canyon Creek, which she wants people to be particularly aware of. She recommends people visit long term care centers without prior notice to see how operations are really conducted there.

She also wants memory care facilities nationwide to face stricter regulations.

“I asked questions, but I guess I didn’t get the right answers,” she said. “I asked a lot of questions and visited the facility several times, but I was unable to prevent my husband from dying.”