Medicare Investigation of Kirkland, WA, Nursing Home Results in New Inspection Protocols

Medicare completed an inspection of the nursing home in Kirkland, WA, that was the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Here are Medicare’s findings and new inspection guidelines for nursing homes going forward.

Published March 26, 2020

Follow our Medicare Coronavirus News page for related information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on Medicare beneficiaries.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the results of an inspection of the Kirkland, Washington, nursing home at the center of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in that state.

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The CMS also released an updated inspection protocol for all nursing homes going forward. 

Medicare inspection finds COVID-19 response issues at nursing home

The Life Care Center nursing home was inspected on March 16 by the CMS and the Washington Department of Social and Health Services State Survey Agency. The onsite inspection included observations of patient care along with a review of documents.

Inspectors found three situations of “Immediate Jeopardy,” which are those that place a patient’s safety in imminent danger during the early stages of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak:

  1. Failure to rapidly identify and manage infected residents
  2. Failure to notify the Washington Department of Health about the increasing rate of respiratory infections among residents
  3. Failure to possess a sufficient backup plan following the sickness and subsequent absence of the facility’s primary clinician

“We have worked closely with our federal partners over the last several weeks to determine what lead to the outbreak (at the Life Care Center) and what contributed to its spread throughout the facility,” said Washington Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Cheryl Strange in a press release from the CMS.1

“We have learned valuable lessons. We are applying these lessons daily in our efforts to prepare long-term care facilities throughout the state for the potential of COVID-19,” Strange said. “Our regulatory teams are highly focused on visiting all nursing homes in Washington state to ensure those who care for some of our most vulnerable citizens are practicing proper infection control.” 

How is Medicare responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak?

The CMS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are actively collaborating about the 147 nursing homes across 27 states that have reported at least one positive test for the disease as of March 23.

Medicare is temporarily postponing routine nursing home inspections to instead focus on infection control and Immediate Jeopardy situations. This ensures all CMS resources will be focused on patient safety instead of paperwork.

The only federal inspections that will be prioritized in the coming weeks will be complaints and facility-reported incidents, self-assessments and targeted infection control inspections.   

“Today, we’re issuing a call to action to nursing homes, hospitals, and the entire health care system: Don’t wait to be inspected. Starting today, you can — and should — use CMS’ self-assessment tool to ensure you’re prepared to prevent the spread of coronavirus.” – Seema Verma, CMS Administrator1

“Patient safety starts with the front line health care provider, so we’ve developed a self-assessment tool in coordination with the CDC,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.


About the author

Christian Worstell is a licensed insurance agent and a Senior Staff Writer for He is passionate about helping people navigate the complexities of Medicare and understand their coverage options.

His work has been featured in outlets such as Vox, MSN, and The Washington Post, and he is a frequent contributor to health care and finance blogs.

Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He currently lives in Raleigh, NC.

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