FLB’s Healthcare Group attorneys are here to support personal care facilities as they face challenges presented by the current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak.
On March 9 and 13, 00, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), issued guidance for infection control and prevention of COVID-19. Because of the close communal environment coupled with a population that is particularly susceptible to COVID-19, personal care facilities are a fertile ground for the spread of this deadly disease. CMS guidance designed to help slow the spread of this disease includes:
- Restricting all visitors and non-essential health personnel, except in certain compassionate care situations (g., end-of-life)
- Cancelling all communal dining and other group activities
- Requiring active screening of residents and staff for fever and other respiratory symptoms;
- Educating residents regarding social distancing practices and hand hygiene
- Screening all staff members at the beginning of their shift for fever and respiratory symptoms
- Identifying staff working at multiple facilities and actively screening and restricting those individuals to avoid the spread of COVID-19
- Reviewing and revising how facilities interact with outside vendors to prevent potential transmission of COVID-19
- Exploring alternative means to provide communication for residents and would-be visitors
- For compassionate care visitation, employing enhanced protocols, including suggesting that visitors refrain from physical contact and exploring alternative visiting areas/entrances to the facility
- Educating visitors and any staff entering the facility to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of fever or respiratory infection for no less than 14 days after leaving the facility. Should those symptoms occur, advising those individuals to immediately advise the facility and implement a self-isolation protocol.
While we are still very much at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, personal care facilities are already beginning to see the potential ramifications of this outbreak. On April 2, it was reported that Life Care Center of Kirkland, a Washington state personal care facility currently connected to no less than 37 COVID-19-related deaths, now faces fines of more than $600,000. It could ultimately lose its Medicare and Medicaid funding if it fails to adequately address a number of deficiencies that led to this country’s first major outbreak of COVID-19. Notably, these violations date back to February 12 (before CMS’s COVID-19 guidelines) through March 27.
Federal inspectors have alleged that the facility failed to promptly notify authorities of its surge in respiratory infections. Not only did they fail to notify regional authorities, but also the facility is alleged to have continued to operate, admitting new patients and holding events—including a Mardi Gras party—for residents and their visitors. While the facility purportedly began discouraging visitors on February 10 due to illness among the residents, no report was made to regional authorities until more than two weeks later. Questions have also been raised regarding the training of its employees and whether they had been properly trained to sanitize items.
We expect to see more fines and violations due to facilities’ failures to adhere to more stringent CMS requirements, as well as violations and fines related to facilities’ failure to adhere to long-standing CMS requirements. Citations and publicity of this nature are often followed by lawsuits from personal injury law firms. Having the proper protocols, policies, training and documentation in place is key to maintaining Medicare/Medicaid funding and avoiding costly lawsuits.
We will continue to monitor this ever-changing situation and will provide periodic updates. If you would like assistance in assessing your personal care facility’s practices, protocols and policies, our attorney team is here to help.If you have any questions, please contact us using the form below, or give us a call at 610-797-9000. We wish you well during these extraordinary times.