An extensive investigation conducted by California Watch has revealed that hundreds of nursing homes have decreased staffing levels, even though they received hundreds of millions of dollars in increased public funding.
The Ventura County Star reported on the investigation which analyzed the effect of a 2004 law which ultimately funneled more than $880 million in increased state and federal funds to nursing homes. However, over 200 nursing homes in the state actually decreased staffing levels, paid lower wages, or decreased at-home caregiver levels.
The 2004 law was intended to allow the state to capture more federal funds for elder care. It created a reimbursement system instead of a flat-fee payment format for nursing homes. It also allowed the facilities to pay a fee that would trigger increased federal matching funds. As a result the overall public funding of nursing homes ballooned in the state to nearly $4 billion.
However, official complaints alleging nursing home negligence and abuse have actually increased significantly since the bill. Amazingly, state officials actually pay for nursing homes to defend against abuse and neglect charges. That means that taxpayers are funding nursing homes which then cut services, and the taxpayers are then charged again to defend the consequences of the negligent acts of those deficient nursing homes. It is a subsidy for mistreating elderly residents.
The California Watch investigation revealed that the facilities which cut service while taking more taxpayer money were likely motivated more by increased profits than providing proper care. The facilities that decreased staffing levels predictably increased their median profits by 35%. However, those increased profits came at a high cost to many neglected nursing home residents.
Covenant Care, for example, received $15 million in increased funding while cutting the amount of caregivers assigned to patients. One of those patients was Charles McGrew. After being admitted to a Covenant Care nursing home, Mr. McGrew eventually developed pressure sores on his tailbone and ankles. One leg ultimately had to be amputated, leading to his death shortly after.
Since McGrew’s death, nursing home levels at Covenant have actually decreased even further, falling below the state mandated levels. Profits at the facility have increased, however, as administrators received bonuses based in part on profit increases each year.
Abuse like the one leading to Mr. McGrew’s death is often attributed to improper care by the lowest paid workers who provide the majority of patient care in nursing homes. It was this lowest-paid group that received by far the fewest wage raises after the 2004 bill. In fact, adjusted for inflation, over a third of those critically important direct patient care workers received wage decreases.
Our Chicago nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti are disheartened but familiar with the story of nursing home negligence and mismanagement uncovered in this investigation. We have waged many battles against negligent care provided by untrained, unsupervised, unskilled, low-paid care workers. Taxpayers deserve to have their money spent appropriately on the care of vulnerable elderly resident. Public funds should not end up in the pocket of high-paid nursing business professionals.