As the coronavirus pandemic grips the nation, medical experts have repeatedly stressed that the most vulnerable to Covid-19 are older people and those with underlying medical problems. Over and over again, New Haven news outlets have reported on staggeringly high fatality counts in nursing homes and assisted living facilities where Covid-19 has ravaged vulnerable residents.
“Widespread failures in patient care”
A couple of days ago, the Washington Post added another twist to the grim accounts of nursing home failures. The newspaper reported that multiple for-profit nursing home companies accused of “widespread failures in patient care,” fraud, labor violations and more have cashed in on the pandemic, receiving “hundreds of millions of dollars in ‘no strings attached’ coronavirus relief aid.”
The Post reported that more than a dozen nursing home companies that scooped up the federal money have settled civil suits in recent years over “substandard care and other abuses,” improper Medicare billing and more.
Despite allegations of fraud, a windfall
Nursing home companies sued in recent years by the federal government’s Department of Justice for Medicare fraud have received more than $300 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.
The Post reports that “millions more went to nursing homes with widely publicized breakdowns during the pandemic,” including a facility where police found “bodies of 17 residents in a makeshift morgue; another had been stored in a shed.”
The paper’s in-depth report noted that the payments included a few spending restrictions; nursing homes were prohibited from using the aid money on abortions or gun-control lobbying, but were not required to spend on PPE for residents or employees.
The nursing home industry has lobbied for financial aid since the pandemics early days. The Post reports that more than 45,000 residents have died since March.
Another means of cashing in
To ease the pandemic’s hospital-bed shortage, the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) waived a rule “that required patients to spend three consecutive days in a hospital before becoming eligible for skilled nursing care funded by Medicare.” The change meant nursing homes could convert long-term patients whose care was covered by Medicaid to better-paying Medicare.
A Harvard professor of health-care policy told the Post that the change resulted in a “huge revenue bump” for the nursing home industry. The facilities can quadruple the revenue a Medicaid resident generates by moving the resident to Medicare.
Families want improved care for loved ones
Of course, there’s no doubt that nursing homes have been under tremendous strain during the pandemic, but officials – and especially the families who have loved ones living in the facilities – want to see financial aid and other increases in revenue devoted to much-needed improvements in the care and treatment of vulnerable residents.