Federal nursing home regulators have found the Kirkland nursing home at the center of the state’s novel coronavirus outbreak failed to quickly respond, placing residents in imminent danger.
In preliminary findings released Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) identified three areas of serious noncompliance at Life Care Center of Kirkland: failure to rapidly identify and manage sick residents, failure to notify the state Department of Health about an increase in respiratory infections and the lack of a sufficient backup plan after the nursing home’s primary clinician fell ill.
These “immediate jeopardy” findings against Life Care Center of Kirkland, which has been linked to 35 coronavirus deaths, are the most serious cited by CMS. The findings set into motion the process to terminate the facility’s Medicare reimbursement.
Life Care Center spokesman Timothy Killian disputed part of the findings, stating that the clinician continued to advise nurses from home after becoming ill early-on in the outbreak. The nursing home addressed the other issues, he said, and CMS expected the nursing home to “do things that no nursing home would be able to do” in the same situation.
The Seattle Times previously reported on the nursing home’s lag in testing and isolating sick residents and notifying officials of a respiratory outbreak, which Life Care staff had noticed by Feb. 10, more than two weeks before the public health officials were notified.
The CMS findings also mirror factors the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found contributed to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at the nursing home in a report released last week.
The full investigation findings have not yet been released.
CMS inspectors entered the Kirkland nursing home the weekend of March 7, while staff from the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) conducted an off-site investigation. The inspectors concluded their work March 16.
The agencies said they’re using lessons learned at Life Care to guide other nursing homes. Nearly 150 nursing homes across the country have COVID-19 cases among residents, according to federal data. There are at least 23 nursing homes and care facilities in King County with confirmed cases, and a Bellingham facility has reported at least 32 cases.
“Our regulatory teams are highly focused on visiting all nursing homes in Washington state to ensure those who care for some of our most vulnerable citizens are practicing proper infection control,” DSHS Secretary Cheryl Strange said in a statement.
CMS has paused routine inspections to focus on immediate jeopardy and infection-control violations, the latter of which are the most commonly cited violations among nursing homes nationally, as The Seattle Times has previously reported.
In this regard, the Life Care Center of Kirkland was previously not an outlier. Health inspectors cited the facility last April for failures to prevent infections, the only such finding in recent years, the federal data show. CMS rates the facility three out of five stars for health inspections, and five stars overall.
Authorities had cited other nursing homes more often for infection-prevention deficiencies.
Seattle Times reporter Daniel Gilbert contributed to this report.