The executive in charge of the nursing home where the first known outbreak of coronavirus patients erupted in the U.S. says a federal inspection diverted precious time from her staff’s desperate efforts to care for critically ill residents. Bill Whitaker and his team were the first reporters allowed inside the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, since the outbreak there last February. His report reveals the details of the early stages of a medical emergency that soon grew into a pandemic and the federal government’s bungled response to it. The report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, November 1at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
Nancy Butner, a vice president at Life Care Centers of America who ran the Kirkland facility for 14 years, was desperate for more staff. Forty of them, including the medical director, could no longer come to work because they had COVID-19 symptoms. She asked the federal government for an emergency team of doctors and nurses. A team of doctors and nurses did come five days later, but not before the federal government sent a team in to inspect Life Care Center of Kirkland in the middle of the outbreak. “It was infuriating– they didn’t truly understand COVID or what the facility was going through,” Butner tells Whitaker. “Hours of staff time were averted to managing a survey process instead of managing a crisis in the facility and patient care.”
Life Care Center says inspectors from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services interviewed staff and demanded documentation, diverting 400 hours of staff time away from patient care. “They knew how many staff were lost. They knew how many patients were hospitalized. They knew there was a lot of patients that were sick and it was an unknown virus,” says Butner. “I explained that to them. But I can’t… tell them to leave.”
60 Minutes searched hundreds of public documents and turned up emails that show state health officials pressed the governor’s office to call off the inspection. Dr. Jeffery Duchin, the head of outbreak response at Public Health Seattle-King County called the inspection “Not an appropriate use of precious time.” He tells Whitaker he believes the government knew its investigation was taking place during a public health emergency at a critical time. “I don’t have any reason to believe it. That it was a mix-up. I believe it was an intentional decision to conduct a survey at that time.”
Says Butner, “I think they wanted a scapegoat for what happened at Life Care Center Kirkland. I think that they wanted someone to blame for COVID-19 spreading. We had nothing to do with the spread across the nation.”
60 Minutes wanted to ask Seema Verma, the federal administrator in charge of the inspection, about the timing of the inspection and the findings, but her office declined multiple requests for an on-camera interview.
Life Care was fined more than $600,000 by the federal government and state inspectors working with federal investigators working with federal investigators found the
Then came October. Three residents tested positive, knocking Petroleum off zero-case lists, forcing the county’s lone school to close for a week and proving, as Sheriff Bill Cassell put it, that “eventually we were going to get it,” and that the virus “ain’t gone yet.”
That is a lesson people in many other wide-open places have been learning as the coronavirus surges anew. Months after it raced in successive waves along the nation’s coasts and through the Sun Belt, it is reaching deep into its final frontier — the most sparsely populated states and counties, where distance from others has long been part of the appeal and this year had appeared to be a buffer against a deadly communicable disease.
In Montana, which boasts just seven people per square mile, active cases have more than doubled since the start of the month, and officials are warning of crisis-level hospitalization rates and strains on rural health care. In Wyoming, which ranks 49th in population density, the National Guard has been deployed to help with contact tracing. Those two states, along with the low-density states of Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota, now have some of the nation’s highest per capita caseloads. Even Alaska, the least-crowded state, is logging unprecedented increases, including in rural villages.
“People here make the joke that we’ve been socially isolating since before the state was founded,” said Christine M. Porter, an associate professor of public health at the University of Wyoming. “In terms of the reason this happened now and it didn’t happen before, it was essentially luck-slash-geography. It’s a disease that spreads exponentially once it’s taken root, unless you take severe measures to stop it.”
The bulk of these states’ cases are clustered in their relatively small cities, but infections are fanning out. In Montana, about 55 percent of cases were in population centers by mid-month, down from nearly 80 percent over the summer. And although the caseloads may look low, they loom large for local public health officials and facilities.
Sue Woods directs the Central Montana Health District, a Massachusetts-sized area that includes Petroleum and five other rural counties. The district has about 120 active cases, and Woods is working 10- to 12-hour days, mostly on contact tracing.
“The numbers of cases that we see are so small compared to large population centers, but when you take our population into account, we’re right in the same percentages,” Woods said. “Two of us are doing the bulk of the patient contacts. It is overwhelming.”
Some officials point to the positive side of being hit by the coronavirus later in the pandemic. It gave jurisdictions and health-care facilities the opportunity, they say, to collect personal protective equipment, ramp up testing and learn more about the virus and how to treat covid-19, the disease it causes.
“Up until a few weeks ago, we had been very successful in limiting transmission,” said Alexia Harrist, Wyoming’s state health officer and state epidemiologist. “It did buy us very important time to
Nation’s Largest Suicide Prevention Organization Celebrates National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (S.2661) Becoming Law
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2020
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — On Saturday, October 17, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (S.2661), legislation that will support the implementation of the future 9-8-8 crisis hotline, was signed into law. Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP),the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, released the following statement:
“In July, the Federal Communications Commission announced that 9-8-8 would be the new universal hotline number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 2022. This easy-to-remember number will increase public access to mental health and suicide prevention crisis resources, encourage help-seeking for individuals in need, and is a crucial entry point for establishing a continuum of crisis care.
“This is why AFSP applauds the U.S. Congress for prioritizing suicide prevention through unanimous passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. This historic legislation, now law, will bring our mental health crisis response system into the 21st century. We are encouraged by the federal government’s dedication to preventing this leading cause of death and showing all Americans that mental health is just as important as physical health.
“It should be noted however that the United States’ mental health crisis response system is woefully underfunded and undervalued. It is crucial that local crisis call centers are adequately equipped to respond to what we expect will be an increased call volume and provide effective crisis services to those in need when 9-8-8 is made available in July 2022.
“We would like to especially thank the legislation’s sponsors in the U.S. Senate, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed (D-RI), and the U.S. House, Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Greg Gianforte (R-MT), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), as well as their staff. We would also like to thank the Committee members, Congressional leadership, and staff who have supported these efforts on Capitol Hill.
“AFSP’s nearly 30,000 volunteer Field Advocates engaged their members of Congress for years in support of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. They made their voices heard through thousands of letters, phone calls, and emails. They have pushed the suicide prevention movement forward, and their efforts will save lives.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 9-8-8 number will be active nationwide by July 2022. Until that point, those in crisis should continue to call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For guidelines on how to report safely on suicide: https://afsp.org/for-journalists/.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, and with a public policy office in Washington, D.C.