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Should Terrible Nursing Homes Get Federal Relief Funds?

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On August 27, the Department of Health & Human Services (HSS) announced that it would be sending an additional $2.5 billion to nursing homes on top of the $4.9 billion it has already sent to the nation’s 15,500 facilities to help fight the COVID pandemic. The government is making a desperate effort to help rescue the nation’s nursing home residents from suffering the same fate as the 68,000 who have died of COVID at facilities already, but it is debatable if sending another blank check to nursing homes is a wise approach.

“If this were any other industry, you would hope the government would let the bad companies go out of business, especially those who are victims of their own greed and incompetence. With the nursing home industry, they’re holding their elderly residents hostage. If the government withholds financial assistance from the worst homes, the elderly residents there would be left homeless or suffer under even worse care,” said Brian Brown, a founding partner with Brown & Barron, a law firm specializing in nursing home abuse and neglect cases.

Throwing good money after bad?

Profit motive has created the situation that allowed COVID to sweep through nursing homes without much resistance, and that same profit motive could divert federal relief funds into the pockets of nursing home operators and investors. There is a mythology forming that nursing homes were powerless against a virus like COVID, which is particularly lethal to its populations of elderly residents living in close proximity. The reality is that even prior to COVID, the number-one killer of nursing home residents has been respiratory infections, and the most common violations found by nursing home inspectors were related to sloppy infection control practices.

In May of 2020, the Government Accounting Office reported that 82% of nursing homes had an infection-control-related infraction in one or more years. The GAO concluded that “most nursing homes had infection control deficiencies prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; half of these homes had persistent problems.”

Thanks to a successful lobbying effort by the nursing home industry with the Trump administration, the average fine to nursing homes dropped by 31% from an average of $41,260 to a paltry $28,405 per fine. It stands to reason that it is simply more profitable to pay the fines than to make the investments it would require to protect residents from COVID or any other virus. This begs the question whether billions of dollars of bailout is likely to change an industry that sees the routine deaths of the elderly due to preventable infection as an acceptable cost of doing business.

“The nursing homes should be required to invest 100% of the federal relief funds into actual infection control resources. It should require that nursing homes offer paid sick leave for staff, and it should require participation in established programs for infection control training for their staff,” said Leah Barron, a founding partner at Brown & Barron. “If the funding comes with no strings attached, that money is probably not going to be used to help save the lives of the elderly as it was intended.”

Refusing to learn from past mistakes…

The lack of participation in free training for nursing home staff is an early indicator that the nursing home industry is not interested in fixing its infection control issues. The government has invested heavily in training for nursing homes to help them with infection control practices. Instead of tying the funds to participate in the training program, it made the training completely voluntary. As a result, only 1,400 nursing homes (9%) have participated in the training.

The reality is that the nursing home industry is largely a for-profit enterprise, and like all profit-driven health care institutions, the incentive is to drive higher profits by reducing the quality of care. In nursing homes, this means hiring the lowest-paid, lowest-trained workers in the healthcare industry, running without sufficient staffing to meet the needs of residents, and cutting corners wherever possible. The COVID pandemic did not create the flaws in the U.S. nursing home business model; it simply exposed them. Unless the federal government gives the nursing homes goal-related objectives to qualify for additional funding, there is little history to demonstrate that the money will be used for anything other than profit-taking.

Our attorneys at Brown & Barron, LLC focus on representing nursing home residents who have been neglected or abused. We know first-hand how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable residents are to injuries. If you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of nursing home negligence, we invite you to contact our team as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options.

To learn more about how the coronavirus is affecting nursing homes and their residents, visit our COVID Resource Center. To contact our team, call (410) 698-1717 today for a consultation.