Nursing homes accused of misusing federal money received $300M+ in pandemic relief

Nursing home companies recently sued for Medicare fraud have received more than $300 million in COVID-19 relief payments, according to a Washington Post analysis.

The Post used public records and provider websites to determine total funding and the ownership structure of more than 2,000 U.S. nursing homes. More than a dozen companies that received relief money have settled civil lawsuits in recent years for allegations ranging from improper Medicare billing to inadequate care. In total, the companies repaid the government over $260 million and almost all are in active corporate integrity agreements with HHS, the same department that distributed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act payments.  

Millions also went to facilities that have been faulted for improper care. Among them are a New Jersey home where 17 patient bodies were found in a makeshift morgue, along with the Kirkland, Wash.-based Life Care Center of Kirkland, the site of the nation's first known COVID-19 outbreak. The Kirkland facility received nearly $320,000, even though a CMS inspection found the home didn't properly care for sick residents or alert authorities of the outbreak. Homes within the Tennessee-based Life Care network received more than $48 million in relief. Tim Killian, Life Care public information liaison, said the company continues to work with the government to "provide the best care and to safeguard both residents and staff."

Coronavirus relief payments came with "no strings attached" for nursing home companies and other providers, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in April. HHS gave nursing homes a $50,000 lump sum, along with an additional $2,500 per bed. The average grant was $315,000, with some larger facilities receiving $3 million or more.

Facilities were prohibited from using relief money for abortions, gun-control lobbying and the purchase of chimpanzees. The money didn't need to specifically provide care for potential or actual COVID-19 patients, according to HHS. Grants could be used for a range of expenses, including health insurance, rent payments and equipment lease payments. HHS said providers will undergo audits, and those unable to show that money went to expenses attributed to the pandemic may have to return funds.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, launched an investigation partially focused on grant spending by five nursing home chains, including Life Care. Mr. Clyburn told the Post that companies receiving funds after committing fraud "warrant particularly close scrutiny."

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living said the money was needed badly. The American Health Care Association is currently asking for $100 billion more in relief, much of it to go to nursing homes. Mark Parkinson, AHCA president and CEO, wrote in a letter to the industry that, "This is a battle for the lives of our residents, our staff and the very survival of our sector."

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