Regulators place serious citation against management of Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center

State regulators decided on Tuesday to take some serious, yet seemingly procedural action against directors of the Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center after more than 100 residents and at least equally as many staff have now been infected with the coronavirus.

Surveyors levied what is known as an “Immediate Jeopardy” citation against the facility and it’s current management, including Director Melissa Gongaware, who has been the focus of much of the mismanagement.

State officials confirmed that the citation was issued and that this is the first of it’s type to be issued in the past several years.

The Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center was cited for three deficiencies on Tuesday, including:

1) Governing Body
2) Client Protections
3) Physical Environment

The Center for Medicare/Medicaid Service State Operations Manual defines Immediate Jeopardy (IJ) as “a situation in which the provider’s noncompliance with one or more requirements of participation has caused, or is likely to cause, serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident.

Attorneys that we spoke with say that once a facility gets an Immediate Jeopardy rating, it’s given a time frame to fix the deficiency. If not, CMS will terminate the facility’s Medicare and Medicaid funding. Since the government tends to be a facility’s largest payer, losing accreditation can be devastating. In addition, it can also negatively impact a hospital’s insurance rates, among other things.

As the agency responsible for Medicare and Medicaid, The Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) requires facilities to maintain infection control and prevention policies as a condition for participation in the programs.

After an extensive Southside Light News investigation, state lawmakers and the Department of Health and Human Services were made aware of the rapidly deteriorating situation here locally and they immediately took action.

The Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center is among a handful of facilities across the country to be dealt an immediate jeopardy citation during the coronavirus pandemic. The main offenders so far have been nursing homes and long-term care facilities ran by private organizations. This is believed to be the first of its type against a state-operated facility during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is no laughing or light matter,” said Medicare/Medicaid Compliance Manager Gregorio Liccardello. “A formal report will be issued in due time, but this is interesting that a state-operated facility would take this action.”

Liccardello says that it is almost like admitting guilt.

“What the state recognizes here is that if people had not had gone public with their complaints and concerns and the local news media had not advocated for action then this may have never been brought to the light,” Liccardello said. “This potentially opens the door for families.”

Sources with the Department of Health and Human Services say that Surveyors noted that management at the facility “failed to take appropriate actions related to a COVID-19 outbreak. These failed practices may have contributed to multiple residents and staff contracting COVID-19.”

On Tuesday, at least 100 residents had tested positive for COVID-19 at the Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center and another 100 + staff members had the diagnosis. Of the more than 100 residents who have become infected, 10 are being treated in the hospital.

Among the problems cited by investigators, according to sources close to the investigation were a lack of personal protective equipment, failure to maintain social distancing among residents, inadequate staff and not acting quickly enough when residents exhibited symptoms of the disease.

All of these allegations were indicated in the investigation conducted by The Southside Light News over the past three weeks.

This was not a run-of-the-mill inspection by any means, as you might be thinking.

CMS first told nursing homes to prepare for the coronavirus on Feb. 6, saying, “Every Medicare participating facility in the nation’s health care system must adhere to standards for infection prevention and control in order to provide safe, high quality care.” It has followed up with additional guidance to restrict nonessential visitors and related to the use of PPE.

The CMS also suspended routine nursing home inspections and said it would only focus on situations in which residents are in immediate jeopardy for serious injury or death. It said if inspectors lacked adequate PPE, they couldn’t enter homes. That is what makes Tuesday’s result so interesting.

The Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center will have to create a “plan of correction,” and will now have to stay in close touch with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services and the CMS about infections.

As we first reported, staff were being face with a very serious issue of not having adequate PPE, personnel and facilities to contain the outbreak. Initially, local managers denied that a problem existed and local public health officials aided in downplaying the severity of the situation. The Nueces County/Corpus Christi Public Health Department has yet to respond to this serious citation that was handed down on Tuesday. Local Public Health managers simply noted that they were assisting with things like reporting and monitoring, though there was never any evidence of that produced.

Since we first brought you this story, state officials confirm that staffing has been arriving from other State Supported Living Centers from around the state and that Personal Protective Equipment access is being made somewhat more available.

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