Perhaps no nursing home in the U.S. – or the world – has ever received more attention than Life Care Center of Kirkland (Life Care), located in Kirkland, Washington.
Recall that Life Care was the “index” skilled nursing facility regarding the outbreak of COVID-19. It was the first nursing facility with a reported outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. and, as far as is known, in the world.
This article describes the legal aftermath of that self-reported outbreak; the governments’ (both federal and State) response; and the decision of a State Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) regarding whether the enforcement actions the government imposed were legally sufficient and supportable.
The background is largely undisputed. The relevant timeframe is February and March of 2020. After seeing an unusual number of residents display respiratory symptoms, including fevers, on February 26, 2020, Life Care’s infection control nurse reported a possible outbreak to the King County Department of Health. According to the official transcript, the County did not return the nurse’s call that day, so she called again the next day.
The same day the infection control nurse first notified the Department of Health, she spoke with Life Care’s Director of Nursing and its Administrator, and a memo was sent to all staff indicating that the dining room would be closed. The memo reinforced the need to wipe down equipment and noted that group activities were cancelled. All staff were encouraged to stay home and seek medical attention for any flu-like symptoms. The memo also reminded staff to complete hand hygiene before and after patient care and continue implementing Life Care’s flu protocol where appropriate.
Notably, at the time of the February outbreak, Life Care was rated a “Five-Star” nursing facility by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”), the government’s highest score, which meant that it was “much above average.”