Baker unveils nursing home aid package
$82m in long-term aid plus $60m if COVID-19 reemerges this fall
THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION on Thursday unveiled a support package for nursing homes that ties staffing and occupancy reforms to additional, stable long-term funding and short-term aid in the event COVID-19 infection rates begin to rise again this fall.
Earlier this year, when COVID-19 deaths were surging at nursing homes, the Baker administration belatedly pumped emergency funding into the industry, but most of that money ran out at the end of August. What was left was a controversial program that provided additional funding to nursing homes that set up isolation wards for COVID-19 residents and agreed to accept new COVID-19 patients from hospitals and other medical facilities.
Nursing homes are wary of taking in residents infected with the coronavirus, in part because the facilities that did early on in the pandemic suffered higher death rates than facilities that did not, according to research compiled by Nicole Aschoff and Pankaj Mehta, a husband and wife team. Aschoff works at the Boston Institute of Nonprofit Journalism and Mehta at the Boston University College of Data Science.
Overall, deaths from the coronavirus at nursing homes have accounted for nearly 66 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state.
The package provides $82 million a year in additional funding through the rejiggering of Medicaid rates. The funding provides an average 6 percent rate hike across the industry and an 8 percent average rate hike for high occupancy, high-Medicaid facilities.
To qualify for the funding, facilities must meet minimum staffing levels by January 2021, guarantee that 75 percent of revenues go to staff by October 1, and begin eliminating units housing three to four people, shifting to singles and doubles, starting in October and finishing the job by January 2022.
The state also plans to continue and intensify a number of other existing oversight procedures, including periodic infection control audits and reporting on staffing and other issues.According to the state’s information sheet on the new funding plan, an additional $60 million would be made available to nursing home facilities if coronavirus infection rates begin to rise between October and December 31. The information sheet says the $60 million would “support COVID-19 response efforts and ensure quick action if statewide infection rates rise to a defined threshold.” The threshold was not defined in the information sheet.
At the peak of the initial COVID-19 surge3 between April 24 and April 30, nursing homes were averaging 540 cases and 112 deaths a week. Between August 31 and September 7, those numbers had fallen dramatically to 7.3 cases and 8 deaths a week.