Nursing Home at Epicenter of Early COVID-19 Outbreak Facing $611K Fine from CMS

A few weeks after announcing a threat to terminate the Medicare and Medicaid eligibility of the nursing home in Kirkland, Wash. that sat at the center of the nation’s first major coronavirus outbreak, the federal government has put a price tag on its enforcement actions: $611,000.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) late Wednesday sent a letter to leaders at Life Care Centers of Kirkland, indicating that they have until September 16 to rectify previously announced violations or be kicked out of the federally reimbursed health care programs, the Washington Post and New York Times reported Thursday.

The facility also faces a fine of around $611,000 — or $13,585 per day between February 12 and March 27 — which the government can increase or decrease based on the results of the corrective actions, according to the Post report.

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A spokesperson for Life Care Centers, the Cleveland, Tenn.-based chain that operates the facility, provided a statement to SNN that emphasized the facility’s overall five-star rating from CMS prior to the crisis. The company also successfully removed three immediate jeopardy citations this past weekend, according to the statement.

“We are working hard to address their current concerns in a timely and respectful manner so as to provide our residents the best care,” the company said in the statement. “The federal administrative process provides a means for us to dispute any findings which we believe are incorrect, and we believe some are here. However, we will follow CMS’ process and not address our responses in the public.”

CMS on March 23 announced the findings of its investigation into the facility, with administrator Seema Verma indicating that the property had received an immediate jeopardy citation.

“Specifically, the facility failed to identify and manage sick residents,” Verma said. “They failed to notify the state health department, and the state about sickness amongst the residents. And they failed to have a backup plan for when their staff doctor became sick.”

The federal government used the lessons learned during its investigation into the Kirkland facility as the basis of new, stricter infection-control standards for nursing homes also rolled out on March 23, according to Verma.

At the time of the March 23 announcement, a spokesman for Life Care Centers told the Wall Street Journal that the facility had already fixed all of the problems identified during the initial investigation, and emphasized that the building was unable to begin receiving COVID-19 testing kits until March 5 — weeks after the first symptoms were detected on February 19.

“It’s unrealistic to expect any nursing home to be able to manage this on our own within the framework of a normal disaster response plan,” spokesman Tom Killian told the publication.

The Kirkland property, which as of Thursday was associated with 37 COVID-19 deaths, was also the subject of a report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) that placed some of the blame on staffers reporting to work while sick, as well as the sharing of employees across multiple buildings.

“Limitations in effective infection control and prevention and staff members working in multiple facilities contributed to intra- and interfacility spread,” the CDC wrote in the March 18 edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “COVID-19 can spread rapidly in long-term residential care facilities, and persons with chronic underlying medical conditions are at greater risk for COVID-19–associated severe disease and death.”

Though the CDC did not specifically name the building as Life Care Centers of Kirkland, the Wall Street Journal identified the facility as the subject of the report “through context.”

A subsequent CDC report, also based on information from an unnamed facility in King County, Wash. — where Kirkland is located — indicated that more than half of residents who tested positive for the disease were asymptomatic at the time of their tests.

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