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“It’s An Awful Situation”: Washington Moves To Take Over Nursing Home At Epicenter Of Outbreak

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Washington state officials are reportedly considering taking over a nursing home in Kirkland where at least 10 residents have died, possibly the first example in American history of a state agency nationalizing a nursing home.

The Life Care Center of Kirkland has become the center of a controversy as family members have complained to the press that they have been kept out of the loop when it comes to the care – and even at times, the location – of their loved ones who have either been infected, or possibly exposed and are in the process of being tested. At one point, a woman whose mother died of the facility of still-unknown causes (so possibly not virus-related) was told that her mother was alive and well after she had passed, WSJ reports.

Pat Herrick, whose mother Elaine Herrick lived at the facility for seven years, said staff she has spoken with were juggling many tasks. After her mother died early Thursday morning, Ms. Herrick said she received a call later that day from a clinical representative referring to her mother as still alive. When Ms. Herrick corrected her “she was shocked,” Ms. Herrick said.

She said Mr. Hunter called her that afternoon to apologize for the incident and the company put protocols in place to prevent any similar incidents. Ms. Herrick doesn’t know if her mother was infected with the new coronavirus and wants to have her body tested.

It’s just the latest example, as the coronavirus spreads across the world, of how specialized health-care institutions like nursing homes or other assisted-living facilities are extremely unprepared for the outbreak.

On Friday, the CDC said it was deploying a team of doctors and nurses to begin helping out the staff at the facility, some of whom have tested positive for the virus. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who declared a state of emergency a few days ago,

The facility has been trying to get more protective gear, according to the head of a local health-care trade group. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday the state was seeking more gear from federal emergency stockpiles.

According to WSJ, dozens of residents, staff and visitors had gathered inside the nursing home just a week ago for their Mardi Gras party.

“We have questions and we demand answers. If anyone’s questions should be answered, it’s ours,” said Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law is a resident at the nursing home just east of Seattle. “There’s a line and it starts behind us.”

Families and government officials have blamed the Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America, the owner of the nursing home in Washington, for failing to provide sufficient critical information about the status of patients to families. The company didn’t respond to WSJ‘s requests for comment.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, the executive of the county with the largest number of cases in Washington State (many of which have been tied to the nursing home), has publicly expressed frustration with the company.

“We’ve had some challenges with Life Care and I’m starting to lose my patience,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said at a news conference Friday.

More than 100 residents were in the facility when the outbreak was first confirmed a week ago. By Friday, authorities said 69 residents were still inside and 15 residents had been transferred to local hospitals in the prior 24 hours. Life Care said in a statement Wednesday it didn’t know how the virus got into the 190-bed facility, and that it hadn’t been provided test kits.

The company added that it has so far relied on information from federal and state officials on testing and the number of cases. To be fair, the CDC hasn’t exactly been super forthcoming.

Springing into action, a scientist from nearby UW Medicine visited the nursing home on behalf of state officials and evaluated patients. Though in his report he said they appeared to be well-cared for, he noted the company had performed poorly when it came to communication.

An emergency physician for UW Medicine, which includes a health system and the University of Washington School of Medicine, who visited the nursing home Thursday said the facility needed more health-care workers, and he recommended the state provide help.

Stephen Morris, an assistant professor of public health and emergency medicine, said he evaluated 28 residents identified by public-health and nursing-home workers for possible transfer to local hospitals. He wasn’t able to see everyone, and the facility isn’t designed to effectively quarantine residents, he said. “It’s impossible in that environment.”

Not all residents could speak, but one expressed frustration she couldn’t talk with family, Dr. Morris said. “It’s an awful situation,” he said of residents’ isolation from their families.

Dr. Morris gave the county a report after leaving the home. The report described the facility as clean and well functioning, and patients Dr. Morris evaluated appeared to be well cared for, Ms. Hayes said Friday. The comments reflected his observations during a four-hour visit, Dr. Morris said.

Regarding outreach, the company on Wednesday said each remaining resident had been assigned a clinical representative who will be in contact with family members daily.

“Our clinical team is making personal, one-on-one telephone calls with family members to share information about loved ones and respond to questions,” company President Beecher Hunter said in a Thursday statement.

Earlier this week, the company said it had assigned each patient an outreach liaison who would help with keeping families in the loop.

Regarding outreach, the company on Wednesday said each remaining resident had been assigned a clinical representative who will be in contact with family members daily.

“Our clinical team is making personal, one-on-one telephone calls with family members to share information about loved ones and respond to questions,” company President Beecher Hunter said in a Thursday statement.

We suspect that by the time this outbreak is over, all of the nursing home companies in the US – notorious for being an industry that struggles with different levels of institutionalized shadiness, epitomized by the television show ‘Better Call Saul’- might struggle for years to rebuild public confidence.