Ohio nursing homes cited for infection control during pandemic later got millions in incentive payments – 10TV

Of the 247 long-term care facilities in Ohio that received civil monetary penalties for infection control issues, 159 of them also received incentive payments.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nearly 200 long-term care facilities in Ohio that were hit with fines for inadequate infection control during the COVID-19 pandemic also got federal incentive payments worth millions of dollars, a 10 Investigates’ review of federal data uncovered.

Of the 247 long-term care facilities in Ohio that received civil monetary penalties for infection control issues, 159 of them also received incentive payments. The bonus payments were part of a $2.1 billion portion of CARES Act funding meant to help nursing homes and other long-term care providers to improve infection control response.

Ironically, the facilities did not have to apply for the funding and past infection control violations did not prevent facilities from receiving incentive bonus payments for months when their COVID-19 infections improved.

But critics of the funding say it fails to hold the facilities accountable for their missteps.

“If you take a deep breath and smell the smell of bodies piling up in those other waves of (COVID) outbreaks, it’s like the feds just neglected all of that and had the blinders on at what was going good at a good period,” said Brian Lee, a former nursing home regulator who now runs the patient advocacy non-profit, Families for Better Care.

Lee says the funding also falls short of recognizing the cost vulnerable residents paid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 7,500 of the 19,980 COVID-19 deaths in Ohio have been tied to long-term care facilities.

10 Investigates found in 80 percent of the Ohio facilities that received both fines and the incentives monies – the bonus payments from the federal government offset the cost associated with the fines.

Even without the incentive payments, facilities can receive discounts from civil monetary penalties if they agree not to appeal the fines, according to Pete Van Runkle with the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents 1,100 long-term care providers in Ohio.

All told, Ohio long-term care facilities were assessed more than $11 in civil monetary penalties during 2020. 

Compare that to $20 million in incentive payments, which were part of a $2.1 billion chunk of CARES Act funding set aside for nursing homes.

To uncover this, 10 Investigates compared two separate data sets: civil monetary penalties assessed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services assessed against these facilities for infection control and compared that to a separate data set compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of monies administered by the Human Resources and Services Administration.

Both CMS and HRSA are part of the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services.

“The Nursing Home Infection Control Quality Incentive Program created last year was intended to provide resources to providers to enhance their infection control activities,” an HRSA spokesman said in an email to 10 Investigates. “They must also comply with strict standards regarding how they utilize the resources they receive to protect their residents and staff against COVID-19.”

The spokeswoman also wrote:

“Eligible nursing homes must meet two criteria in order to receive payment. 

  1. A facility must demonstrate a rate of COVID-19 infections that is below the rate of infection in the county in which they are located. 
  2. Facilities must also have a COVID-19 death rate that falls below a nationally established performance threshold for mortality among nursing home residents infected with COVID-19. Facilities that had a mortality rate at or above 10% in a given performance period were considered ineligible for an incentive payment.”

News of this funding does not sit well with those who may have lost loved ones in these facilities or with a nursing home watchdog who talked to 10 Investigates about the payments.

Tune in to 10TV tonight at 6 to learn more.

If you have something you’d like 10 Investigates to look into, please email Chief Investigative Reporter Bennett Haeberle and the 10 Investigates team at 10Investigates@10tv.com