“Money without supervision; »The legislator proposes to give 300 million dollars to retirement homes

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State lawmakers plan to give Ohio nursing homes $ 300 million in federal funds to recover from the pandemic without a requirement for caregiver compensation or quality of care.

The lump sum payment under Bill 461 would not require the funds to be used to increase the notoriously low salaries of the healthcare workforce or to avoid outbreaks with a history of infection control violations. Ohio, through Medicaid, spent $ 6.4 billion on long-term care in fiscal 2020, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

House Representative Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, said occupancy rates are lower and staff and care costs are higher in long-term care facilities, a direct by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to the House Economic Development and Workforce Committee, she indicated that she would be willing to submit an amendment banning nursing homes that accept funds from “discriminating” against non-employees. vaccinated.

In Ohio, at least 8,407 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, state data shows. During the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited 897 Ohio nursing homes with infection control violations, according to documents obtained through public record requests. Several dozen have led to conclusions of “immediate endangerment”, the most serious violations.

In one case, a decision by a Lancaster nursing home to group infected residents into rooms with healthy residents preceded an outbreak that spawned 173 cases in October 2020, some of whom died of the disease, according to state inspection records. A nursing home in Dayton has ignored the COVID-19 infection of a schizophrenic man for several days. By the time they acted, 50 residents and 12 staff had contracted the disease.

Carruthers said it was not his role to tell the industry how to take care of its patients. She told a reporter that she had not heard of the infection control reports.

“I think you got confused with New York,” she said, when asked about the report regarding the Lancaster house.

Robert Applebaum, director of the Ohio Long-Term Care Research Project at the University of Miami, said financial support for nursing homes linked to salary increases and incentives made sense. A blank check? Not really.

“The retirement homes have indeed lost a lot of money and need help, but money without supervision for me is not a good idea,” he said. “The state is missing a great opportunity to work on improvement actions. “

Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester Twp., Asked Carruthers during the committee if she would submit an amendment to the bill blocking money from any facility that “discriminates” against unvaccinated employees. Gross was among the most vocal members of the Republican House caucus anti-vaccine and anti-vaccine mandate.

“I don’t think that’s a problem at all,” Carruthers said.

It is unclear how this amendment, which has yet to be officially proposed, would comply with a CMS directive from President Joe Biden requiring all nursing homes to vaccinate eligible staff, effective Jan.4.

About 58% of healthcare workers in Ohio nursing homes are vaccinated, as of the weekend ending Oct. 31, according to CMS data. That said, 93% of homes reported a nursing shortage last week.

Chris Murray, CEO of the Academy of Senior Health Sciences Inc., spoke to lawmakers in support of the bill. He said the industry was operating at the epicenter of the pandemic, enduring rising healthcare costs, persistent shortages of protective equipment like masks and gloves, and declines in occupancy.

When Democrats on the committee urged him about the lack of money-related requirements, he said the funds would promote better care.

“The problem you are having is the residents of these facilities who are suffering because they are not getting the care they need,” he said.

House Speaker Bob Cupp R-Lima said the bill would be part of an estimated $ 850 million remaining package of the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden enacted in March. Cupp said nursing homes have “significant” financial and personnel issues, as do senior home care programs.

He said he discussed the matter with the Senate Speaker and the Governor. He declined to comment on whether the money should be tied to quality incentives, staffing or others.

“We’re not at all close to that kind of detail,” he said.

The American Health Care Association, an industry lobby group, released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing a 14% decrease in jobs nationwide in the industry. Pete Van Runkle, who heads the Ohio branch of the association, said that in July, the average facility was down 19 positions.

LeadingAge Ohio, which represents the state’s nonprofit nursing homes, said it is seeking federal relief funds and their use is highly regulated. Spokesman Patrick Schwartz said the funds are designed to help pay essential workers, make up for lost income and cover costs related to COVID-19.

“From the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, salaries as well as agency costs rose dramatically for healthcare facilities in Ohio – and they continued to grow at an unsustainable rate. ” he said. “These pressures have contributed to unsustainable increases in operating costs.”

The nursing home industry looms large in Ohio politics.

An Ohio Capital Journal survey published in April found that the Ohio nursing home industry had invested at least $ 6.1 million in state policy and black money groups between 2016 and 2020. This includes $ 365,000 from a black money group linked to the Ohio Health Care Association in a separate black money. entity that has since pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme that resulted in an indictment by the former Speaker of the House and guilty pleas from several allies.

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