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Life Care Center of Kirkland Fined for Negligence in Handling Coronavirus Outbreak

Colburn Law

Life Care Negligence in KirklandOn April 1, Life Care Center of Kirkland was fined more than $600,000 for their comprehensive failure to prepare, act, and respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The long-term care facility is widely considered the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington – in fact, the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the United States can be directly tied to the facility.

This is a crucial development for many family members who have had elderly loved ones contract COVID-19 in skilled nursing homes and similar facilities. In fact, it may set a legal precedent for wrongful death claims against nursing homes for any deaths due to COVID-19 complications.

A Systemic Failure of Healthcare at Life Care Center

Federal inspectors, headed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), sent a letter to Life Care Center in Kirkland, WA on April 1 detailing numerous instances of inadequate procedures and negligent actions leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak. These deficiencies included failures in preparation, patient management, and reporting procedures.

Leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak, Life Care Center failed to take the pandemic seriously – its medical director failed to attend two meetings leading up to the outbreak that may have addressed any potential future outbreaks of infections. Additionally, management indicated that there were no concerns of any potential infections in the near future.

When patients began coming down with mysterious respiratory illnesses, the facility then failed to identify and manage the increasing trend of sickness. Despite the sudden rise in illnesses, they continued to admit new patients and hold events that put residents and guests within close vicinity of each other.

In addition to inadequate patient care, the facility did not formally report a potential flu outbreak to the state Department of Health until more than two weeks later. By state and county law, long-term care facilities are required to report such potential outbreaks within 24 hours of discovery.

As the outbreak of illnesses spiked, the care facility had no response or action plan to the resulting number of cases. According to reports, when the primary doctor on duty fell ill, there was no contingency plan for the lack of leadership, nor a basic medical plan to assist staff. Some of the basic healthcare shortcomings included:

  • A lack of a 24-hour emergency physician
  • Incomplete documentation of patient records due to a lack of staff
  • Certified nursing assistants who were not properly trained on basic sanitation measures, such as disinfecting surfaces with bleach wipes
  • Staff delivering clothing to residents without changing their personal protective equipment (PPE) despite warnings that patients were contagious.

The Sobering Results of Negligence in a Nursing Home

As of March 23rd, 37 people directly associated with the facility have died, and 129 residents, staff members, and visitors tested positive for COVID-19 – inadvertently leading to a rapid spread of the virus throughout the state, causing the first coronavirus hotspot in the United States.

In accordance with the federal investigation, the nursing home facility was fined a per-day civil penalty of $13,585 dating back to February 12 and continuing through March 27 for a total of around $611,000. Additionally, the inspectors stated that if the facility did not correct all deficiencies and return to compliance by September 16, they would lose any and all federal payments from the Medicare/Medicaid program.

Can Life Care Center and Other Facilities Be Held Liable?

Given what we now know about Life Care Center of Kirkland and its lack of care throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, the skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility may be held liable for the deaths of any residents who contracted coronavirus under their care.  The Life Care Center exercised gross negligence against their patients by failing to uphold their duty of care in a sensitive situation. As a result, they may be held accountable for any actions they may have conducted that resulted in the wrongful death of a resident.

This extends to any nursing home facilities who failed to act accordingly in the face of coronavirus – directly contributing to the illness and subsequent death of elderly and immunocomprised residents. Any nursing homes who are negligent in their handling of the COVID-19 outbreak may be held directly liable for any deaths that may result.

Nursing Homes Continue to Suffer COVID-19 Outbreaks

On March 31, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that they had found positive cases of COVID-19 in over 400 assisted living facilities across the nation. Just one week prior, they had found coronavirus in 147 facilities.

This spike in positive cases certainly bears more attention, and may shine a bright light on any facilities exercising gross negligence at the expense of their residents.