Investigation shows Life Care Centers of America violated federal standards

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A nationwide chain of nursing homes, which has a location in Littleton, violated federal standards meant to stop the spread of infectious diseases in at least 10 homes subject to COVID-19 inspections, according to an investigation published in the Washington Post this weekend.

The Post obtained and reviewed a batch of 26 inspection reports of homes operated by Life Care Centers of America. Out of those, regulators overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid found deficiencies at 10 of the locations, according to the article.

The Post reported an April 10 inspection found no deficiencies in infection controls at Life Care of Nashoba Valley, a home in Littleton where over half the residents tested positive last month amid requests for transparency by local officials. As of the same day, ten residents had died of the virus as well as Maria Krier, a nurse who criticized the facility’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

One of the officials who raised concerns about the home, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, sent an email with the Washington Post article, which quotes Trahan, to media contacts on Monday.

She said nursing homes can do everything right and still experience outbreaks, but the home in Littleton did not sufficiently communicate these issues early on.

“What was different about Life Care of Nashoba Valley was we didn’t have transparency,” she said. “We didn’t find out there was an outbreak there.”

Trahan, a Democrat, said companies appear to either be putting profit over people or attempting to save face.

She said the inspection, which found no violations at the home, demonstrates the need for better federal oversight of the industry. She said she opposes steps taken under the administration of President Donald Trump that would continue loosening nursing home regulations.

“This is not a moment for us to deregulate,” she said.

Life Care Centers of America did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday. Tim Killian, a spokesman for the company, told the Post the facility provided quality care and officials from the company regularly contacted local health authorities and elected officials. Local politicians who accused the company of not properly reporting the spread of the coronavirus in the home created “acrimony” in the community, he told the Post.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who also raised concern over the Littleton home, said he was surprised by the results of the inspection. The Acton Democrat said he believes conditions at the home have improved — more protective equipment transparency — though he continues to receive calls from staff and families.

He said he has contacted the state Department of Public Health and asked the agency to publicly release more information about their inspections.

No “comprehensive national data” exists to compare the spread of infection at the homes to other chains, though nursing homes have been hit hard nationwide, according to the Post.

Locally, Life Care Centers of America also owns homes in Billerica, Life Care Center of Merrimack Valley, and Leominster, Life Care Center of Leominster. State records show these two homes, like the Littleton home, have over 30 reported cases.

Inspections conducted at homes around the nation since the outbreak of COVID-19 found a number of violations that could lead to the spread of infectious disease, such as an aide in Michigan who delivered food without gloves or a gown, according to the Post. In another Michigan home, the article detailed the transfer of a piece of equipment from a COVID-19 isolation room to a virus-free room without first being disinfected. The article lists actions taken against Life Care Centers of America in previous years, including lawsuits and a federal probe.

The company also owns Life Care Center of Kirkland, a home in Washington state that experienced the first reported outbreak of the virus in the United States this February.

“We would have benefited so much here in Massachusetts if we were alerted to what happened in Kirkland, Washington,” Trahan said.

She said she hopes the U.S. Senate will quickly move forward with the HEROES Act, or Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, passed by the House last week. The act includes provisions for nursing homes, including increasing the federal share of Medicaid rates from 6.2% to 14% through next June, she said.

It also includes $150 million to develop teams that respond quickly to nursing homes at risk of outbreaks and provides incentives for homes to create COVID-19 specific facilities. Additionally, it requires the Department of Health and Human Services to collect and publicly report data on cases in nursing homes.

Trahan said homes need to comply with regulations that require residents and families to be notified when new infections are detected.

Eldridge said the article from the Post demonstrates an issue in the nursing home industry beyond just Life Care Centers of America.

“If nursing homes are run by out-of-state for-profit corporations, how do we truly have accountability?” he said.

Eldridge has filed a bill with state Rep. Jim Arciero, D-Westford, that would require surprise inspections at nursing homes, interventions and testing of health care workers in these facilities. The bill is currently in a joint committee on public health.

In April, Gov. Charlie Baker announced he would make $130 million in funding available to nursing homes across the state to pay for additional staff, cleaning and personal protective equipment.