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Washington nursing home where dozens died faces federal fine of $600K

A leading epidemiologist advising the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated the peak of deaths in the US coronavirus pandemic will be three weeks from now, after which "most of the damage will be done," and says it may be possible to only isolate the vulnerable, allowing many back to work. (Provided Photo/CDC via CNN)

(CNN) — The Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, which was an epicenter of Covid-19 cases in the early days of the pandemic, faces a fine of more than $611,000 if it does not correct problems found by federal inspectors.

Inspectors for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found three “immediate jeopardy” deficiencies as well as several less severe issues when they first visited the facility from March 6 to March 16, a summary for that visit shows.

“The facility failed to have a system in place that ensured timely action related to an identified respiratory outbreak within the facility,” the federal agency wrote in the report, explaining why Life Care didn’t provide its residents an adequate level of care.

“There was no evidence the facility recognized all possible systemic risks and concerns related to this known outbreak,” the report adds.

At least 35 coronavirus deaths are associated with the Washington state facility, according to officials. The virus infected two-thirds of residents and dozens of staff members.

While more evidence shows young adults can become seriously ill from coronavirus, the elderly and those with underlying conditions are the most vulnerable to dying from the virus.

Other serious issues identified by inspectors were a failure to “ensure timely notification of public health authorities” and to make available “emergency physician services 24 hours a day during the outbreak crisis.”

“By not acting timely and implementing a facility plan created an environment that placed new admissions and other residents at risk for harm and death,” the inspection report said.

Inspectors re-visited the facility on March 29 and found that, while the “immediate jeopardy” problems were fixed, “substantial noncompliance” still remained.

Officials at the home said CMS has been a valued partner.

“We are working hard to address their current concerns in a timely and respectful manner so as to provide our residents the best care,” officials said in a statement.

The center also faces the loss of its Medicare and Medicaid funding if it does not correct the problems.

“We will continue to work with CMS to find solutions to their ongoing concerns,” Life Care Center’s statement said.

The nursing home now has until September 16 to “correct all deficiencies and return to full compliance” before CMS bars the facility from participating in the Medicare/Medicaid program, says a letter sent by the federal agency to the facility Wednesday.

Additionally, the agency has levied a per-day civil penalty of $13,585 for the deficiencies starting on February 12 and continuing through March 27, for a total of $611,325, the letter says.

Life Care has a right to appeal, the CMS report says.

The parent company, Life Care Center, operates more than 200 facilities in 28 states.