Seattle Nursing Home At Epicenter Of Pandemic Fined $600K

By Jack Queen
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Law360 (April 3, 2020, 7:46 PM EDT) -- A Seattle area nursing home at the epicenter of Washington's COVID-19 outbreak has been fined more than $600,000 by state and federal regulators, who found a litany of problems at the facility that contributed to dozens of cases there and led to nearly 40 deaths.

The Life Care Center of Kirkland was hit with a $13,585 per day fine over a six-week period for putting its elderly residents in "immediate jeopardy" by failing to identify and manage COVID-19 cases, notify regulators of increasing infections or have an adequate backup plan when its top doctor was sickened, regulators said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a letter to Life Care Center on Wednesday that the facility could lose access to federal health care programs if it failed to get its act together by September. CMS said Life Care must also improve its record-keeping and personnel structure, in addition to the problems that allowed infections to proliferate.

The problems at Life Care, which had some of the first coronavirus infections in the U.S., were found during a joint inspection by CMS and the Washington State Department of Health last month. Life Care can appeal the inquiry's findings.

The Washington health agency issued its own findings Wednesday, saying Life Care came up short on a host of state regulations related to quality of care, availability of doctors and infection control, among others. The agency barred Life Care from accepting any new residents until it fixes the problems.

To do so, Life Care must submit a plan to regulators outlining how it will protect residents in similar situations, what changes it will make to ensure the problems don't recur and how it will monitor the effectiveness of those changes.

Roughly two-thirds of Life Care's residents and dozens of staffers ultimately tested positive for the coronavirus during the outbreak, which began in February but quickly grew and became one of the largest COVID-19 hotspots in the country. Health officials have said 37 people connected to the facility died.

"The coronavirus outbreak at Life Care was an unprecedented situation for the state of Washington," Washington Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Cheryl Strange said after the joint inspection in March, adding that the agency is applying lessons learned from the inquiry to other nursing facilities.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in March that her agency was ramping up its inspection of the nearly 150 nursing homes in 27 states that have at least one COVID-19 case.

"Today, we're issuing a call to action to nursing homes, hospitals and the entire health care system: Don't wait to be inspected. Starting today, you can — and should — use CMS' self-assessment tool to ensure you're prepared to prevent the spread of coronavirus," she said.

A representative for Life Care did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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