By Gene Johnson / Associated Press
KIRKLAND — Federal inspectors said Monday they found three serious problems during their check of a Seattle-area nursing home hard-hit by the coronavirus.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, along with state regulators, announced the preliminary results from a March 16 inspection.
They found that the Life Care Center of Kirkland failed to rapidly identify and manage sick residents; failed to notify the Washington Department of Health about the increasing rate of respiratory infections among residents; and failed to have a backup plan in the absence of Life Care’s primary clinician, who fell ill.
Each of those problems placed residents in “immediate jeopardy,” the inspectors said.
At least 35 deaths have been linked to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Life Care Center. Life Care did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
“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 in a written statement. “We have worked closely with our federal partners over the last several weeks to determine what lead to the outbreak there and what contributed to its spread throughout the facility.”
State regulators are now visiting all of Washington’s nursing homes to ensure they have proper infection controls, she said.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 147 nursing homes across 27 states have at least one resident with COVID-19 — a cause for concern given that the disease is especially dangerous for the elderly.
Several nursing homes and senior communities in the Seattle area have had deaths, and federal officials have found that staff members who worked while sick at multiple long-term care facilities contributed to the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable elderly in the Seattle area.
One skilled nursing center in Bellingham, Shuksan Healthcare Center, had 29 new cases announced Sunday, bringing its total to 32.
Families of Life Care residents have expressed frustration that so long after the virus outbreak began in China, the U.S. health system was so slow to identify cases and conduct tests. Even as the nursing home seemed to be facing a spike in flu-like cases in mid-to-late February, visitors came as they always did, staffers were slow to start wearing face masks, and organized events went on as planned, including a Mardi Gras party attended by dozens of residents and visitors.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County, said Life Care notified the county’s public health system on Feb. 27 in a message about an increasing number of sick residents. The message had no mention of severe illness or COVID-19.
“It didn’t indicate anything unusual,” Duchin told reporters last week, noting flu-like outbreaks are frequent in such facilities. The next day, public health called Life Care and learned that about 20 residents were sick, six of them with pneumonia; 18 staff members were sick; and about 30 residents had been tested for flu over the previous two weeks and flu tests were coming back negative.
Life Care spokesman Tim Killian has previously said the facility had no reason to think the outbreak might be related to coronavirus.
AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson in Seattle contributed.