Nation And World

Feds investigate Washington nursing facility at center of coronavirus outbreak

KIRKLAND, Wash. — The federal government is sending a team to Kirkland to investigate what happened inside a nursing facility at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington.

Of the 10 new coronavirus cases announced in King County Wednesday, nine were linked to Kirkland's Life Care Center. And of the 10 coronavirus deaths in Washington so far, at least six were linked to the facility.

As of Thursday, health officials said 70 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Washington, many with links to Life Care.

On Wednesday, two doctors from the health department visited Life Care to examine patients and check on the care at the facility after receiving complaints.

Seema Verma, head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency is sending inspectors to Life Care along with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to figure out what happened and determine whether the nursing home followed guidelines for preventing infections.

Last April, the state fined Life Care $67,000 over infection-control deficiencies following two flu outbreaks that affected 17 patients and staff. An unannounced follow-up inspection in June determined that Life Care had corrected the problems, Verma said.

Carmen Gray and her sister, Bridget Parkhill, visited Life Care on Wednesday to check on their mother, 76-year-old Susan Hailey, through a facility window.

“We couldn’t understand why it is … they had waited to test everyone, since this is the center of what’s been going on,” Gray said.

Gray and Parkhill don’t think enough is being done to stop the spread of coronavirus inside the skilled nursing center.

“Just now, when we were standing there at the door, there was a resident sitting here in her wheelchair holding her stuffed car (with) no mask on her, out of her room -- everyone’s supposed to be in isolation,” Parkhill said.

“(My mother) told me yesterday that she felt that she was being held at gunpoint. That they’re keeping her here until she’s super sick," Gray said. "She’s scared, she’s frustrated.”

Gov. Jay Inslee told KIRO-TV, "I know the Department of Health is doing everything they can to assist -- to increase the confidence for these families that everything is being done."

On Wednesday, Public Health -- Seattle & King County apologized to families for not responding to their emails and calls for help and said that everyone at the facility would be tested for COVID-19.

Health officials in North Carolina reported that a person from Wake County tested positive for the illness after visiting the nursing home. The patient’s flight from the Seattle area to the Raleigh-Durham airport raised fears other passengers were exposed to the virus.

"My understanding is we have the manifest. Now the trick is to go find them,” said Robert Redfield of the CDC.

Life Care Center said on its website that it is screening employees for symptoms before they start work and as they leave. The nursing home is prohibiting visits from residents' family members and is no longer admitting new residents.

Life Care issued the following statement Wednesday night:

"Life Care Center of Kirkland welcomed additional on-site assistance from Public Health Seattle and King County Health Department today to further assist our associates in evaluating and assessing our residents in light of the confirmed cases of COVID-19. Our facility continues to limit visitation as one of several infection prevention strategies to protect the health of our residents and staff.

“Current residents and associates continue to be monitored closely. Associates are actively monitored through temperature and symptom screening at the beginning of work and at the end of their shift. We are also implementing the infection control recommendations provided by state and local health departments and the CDC. While our associates are dedicated to providing care to our residents, if an associate exhibits symptoms, they are asked to self-quarantine at home.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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