Troubled Kansas nursing home removed from Medicare program

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — A nursing home where every resident has tested positive for the coronavirus in a rural Kansas county with the state’s highest infection rate has been warned that federal officials are moving to remove it from the Medicare program, putting its funding at risk.

A scathing report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited a lack of masks as a main driver in the outbreak at the Andbe Home in Norton, Kansas. Sixty-one residents and about three dozen staff members have been infected at the home, and 12 have died.

That outbreak, along with one at a nearby state prison, has brought Norton County to the point where 106 out of every 1,000 residents have contracted the virus.

The federal report said infected residents were kept in the same rooms with those who were not sick, with only a sheet separating them. Communal dining continued for two days after residents began showing symptoms, and even then the facility waited a week before testing all its residents.

Amid the outbreak, the report said, six different staff members also were observed with their masks removed. The report said the failures “placed all residents in immediate jeopardy.”

The agency said the facility faces $14,860 in fines and that it will be terminated from the program effective Nov. 18, although its temporary manager, Mission Health Communities, hopes to make adequate changes before then.

Mission Health is working to help restore compliance — an effort that will involve boosting testing and infection control precautions, ensuring adequate personal protective equipment and restricting visitors, said Cheri Kauset, the company’s vice president of customer experience and communications.

“This is an awful disease and the fight against it is extremely difficult,” she said, adding that it is up to the state to accept its plan to address the problems.

Meanwhile, the case count continued to rise at the Norton Correctional Facility, with 38 staff members and 373 inmates infected. Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Randy Bowman said inmates who test positive are moved to the prison in Lansing, where they can be closer to medical care.

“The whole world is going up and we are having that struggle in our facilities,” he said.

Norton County, which has 5,600 residents, initially was spared from the pandemic and like the vast majority of Kansas counties has no mask mandate. Gov. Laura Kelly pointed to the problems in the community in calling last week for a statewide mask mandate with more teeth. But there is continued resistance, including from state Sen. Rick Billinger, a Goodland Republican, whose district includes Norton County and much of northwest Kansas

“I support now, as I always have, local government having autonomy over the decisions of their communities” he said. “Local decisions are best made closest to the people. I also support these local leaders having the best access to accurate information and any resources they might need to make the best decisions and protect their communities.”