A Kirkland nursing home faces a fine of more than $611,000 if it fails to address inadequate policies that made the facility the epicenter of the country’s first major novel coronavirus outbreak.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wrote a letter to the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, blaming the facility for allowing the COVID-19 virus to spread. According to health officials, the facility failed to report the outbreak for two weeks, despite what the law requires.
Furthermore, the letter stated, Life Care Center gave inadequate care to its residents, failing to give them access to 24-hour emergency doctor services.
The nursing home was featured heavily in the news after authorities confirmed 37 residents had died as a result of COVID-19 complications.
The letter gave the facility an ultimatum, stating that if it “does not correct all deficiencies and return to full compliance by September 16, 2020, … CMS will terminate [the facility] from participating in the Medicare/Medicaid program.”
Additionally, Life Care could also lose its Nurse Aide Training and Competency Evaluation Program, as well as any federal payment made on behalf of patients admitted between March 21 and March 27.
Depending on how the facility responds, CMS concluded, inspectors may raise or lower the $13,585 per-day civil penalty dating to February 12, when the outbreak is believed to have started, and carrying through March 27.
Overall, CMS inspectors said, 129 residents, members of the staff, and visitors were infected with the novel coronavirus.
While the infection causes different degrees of symptoms ranging from mild to moderate in the majority of healthy victims, some people such as the elderly or those with compromised immune systems may experience fatal reactions.
Last month, CMS published a summary of findings that detailed how Life Care continued to admit new patients in spite of an increase in respiratory infections among patients and staff. Furthermore, the facility failed to alert regional authorities about the matter, and even held events such as a Mardi Gras party for residents and their family members.
After discouraging people from visiting residents on February 10 because of what Life Care assumed to be seasonal influenza, the facility did not file a report with the authorities for more than two weeks.
It was only on February 27 that King County officials received a voice message from the Kirkland nursing home.
According to both Washington and King County regulations, nursing care facilities must report any suspected flu outbreak within 24 hours.
Federal officials told The Washington Post that in addition to the findings made by the CMS, Life Care also failed to follow basic protocols put in place to prevent infections. This increased the spread of COVID-19, creating conditions that exposed residents, staff, and visitors to risk.
Furthermore, facility managers only held quality-assurance and performance-improvement (QAPI) meetings on January 27 and February 19 — after the virus had been identified in a neighboring county. No red flags regarding the outbreak of influenza-like infections were brought up during the meeting, officials added.
According to federal inspectors, the facility lacked a “clear medical plan of action,” which led to “systemic failure.”
During a visit carried out by federal inspectors on March 7, two certified nursing assistants who had worked at Life Car for years said they were never trained on how to properly sanitize items with bleach wipes.
Inspectors also saw a laundry staff member delivering clothing to residents in different rooms without changing her gown or gloves. At the time, there were clear signs that several of the patients were contagious, which would have warranted a more cautious approach and yet, staff did not seem prepared to avoid spreading the virus from room to room.
Throughout the outbreak, the environment in the facility was “very chaotic,” Life Care’s executive director and two other unidentified staff members told officials, as a high number of staff members who had been sick were unable to care for the residents.