Updated: Sep 13, 2020
By Emma Bass
In the midst of debate for a second major COVID-19 stimulus package, the Washington Post published an article highlighting the critical importance of oversight that must come with the distribution of government funds. The piece specifically shines light on for-profit nursing home providers, presenting a difficult challenge as the virus causes significant health problems for the older generation of Americans. The protection of our seniors is vital, and government funding must prioritize the health and wellbeing of patients and staff in these facilities. However, many of these providers have been the recipient of legal allegations of fraud and Medicare abuse, therefore leaving some weary of the large amounts of money funneling into this sector.
A major concern of some is that the nursing home providers will use the funding to “grow profit rather than direct money to patients and caregivers.” While the HHS stated that “funds may help nursing homes address critical needs such as labor, scaling up their testing capacity, acquiring personal protective equipment and a range of other expenses directly linked to this pandemic,” according of this report, some facilities are not increasing their quality of care or implementing proper safeguards against the virus even with the influx of funds. For instance, Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey “received about $3 million” and “failed to follow infection-control standards or properly screen visitors, according to a state inspection in April,” according to the Post. Moreover, “The Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington state, the site of the country’s first known coronavirus outbreak, received nearly $320,000 in pandemic relief. After the outbreak, CMS inspectors found the home did not properly care for sick residents or alert authorities to the spread of illness.”
In a letter from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ed Markey, and Representative Lori Trahan to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, they stated that “in this unprecedented global pandemic, transparency and accountability is crucial to saving lives and safeguarding public health.” As we continue to push through the health and economic crisis, this idea of “accountability” is more crucial than ever. This Post article demonstrates that some of the most important medical facilities that protect our seniors can also be guilty of fraudulent behavior. As they undertake the duty of taking care of those most vulnerable, they must properly utilize government funds for this task. In the coming months, whistleblowers can be one of the most powerful accountability tools. It is crucial that those that witness fraud feel empowered to report it in order to guarantee that the goals of CARES Act are met.
Emma Bass is the current Public Interest Advocacy Fellow at Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund.