Profits Over People

WBEZ analyzed data of all nursing homes in Illinois. They found that ownership affects the quality of care and ability to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“But a WBEZ analysis of Illinois and federal data has found that the coronavirus’ spread through the industry has not been even. Nursing homes that operate for profit in the state have had more infections and deaths per bed than nonprofit facilities. The difference is most stark in the 20 counties hit hardest by the virus. In those counties, for-profit nursing homes have had nearly double the death rates as nonprofit facilities.”

WBEZ’s analysis found that more staffing correlates with lower COVID-19 infection and death rates. Advocates for nursing home residents and staff members want to hold the owners accountable for poorly staffed facilities in which contagions spread quickly. Tamara Konetzka is a University of Chicago health care economist who studies nursing homes. She studied federal data about COVID-19 in nursing homes around the country and found a link to low nurse-to-patient ratios.

But facilities say they can’t afford more staff. For years, industry lobbyists have described nursing-home finances as dire. But that is based on accounting tricks and sham companies. For example, WBEZ also reviewed regulatory filings that describe the facilities as unprofitable. But the filings show large payments to related companies in which the owners have financial interests. The arrangements create myriad ways to extract funds away from resident care.

Owner/operators control a nursing home through these related entities. The same people make money in related companies providing everything from therapy to bookkeeping, from ventilators to medications. Most of the related sham entities are organized as limited liability companies, whose owners are hidden.

Because we cannot see how much taxpayer funds have been siphoned over the years, the jury cannot determine how much money was available to pay for safe staffing, necessary training, equipment and infection control. It is time for a change. It is time for transparency and accountability.