Nursing home staff emergencies cost MA taxpayers $82 million > Massachusetts

Massachusetts spent more than $82.4 million providing emergency staff to nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and assisted living facilities statewide. For-profit healthcare companies have received mostly publicly funded staffing assistance, according to data from 25 investigations obtained through a public filing request with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

The Rapid Response program was launched at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as the virus swept through residential facilities. In April 2020, the Baker administration signed contracts with three healthcare staffing agencies to deploy Administrators, Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) in facilities facing staffing emergencies. All contracts have been extended several times.

Recruitment agencies charge the state $65.00 per hour for a CNA, $155.00 per hour for an RN, and $187.00 per hour for a registered nurse. Rates are three to four times higher than average wages and include agency operating costs. Deployment can take from a day to several months and includes 24/7 coverage.

According to the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, nursing home worker shortages remain at an all-time high as 22% of jobs statewide remain vacant. Adriana Kosiba, who grew up in Natick, told investigative reporter Ted Daniel she witnessed it firsthand in August when her father, Nicholas A. Pierro, was admitted to the South Shore Life Care Center in Scituate to be healed by a to recover from a fall.

“He literally fell down the first day, fell out of his bed because they actually gave him a makeshift bed with an air mattress. They also forgot to bring him food,” she said. “They blamed the lack of staff. They blamed people who didn’t want to work.”

DPH data shows Rapid Response Teams have been dispatched to the South Shore’s Life Care Center three times in the past thirteen months and taxpayers have been billed for 536 hours of emergency personnel. No Rapid Response Team was present during the six days Nicholas A. Pierro spent at Life Care South Shore.

Life Care Centers of America is a healthcare provider based in Cleveland, Tennessee with operations in 28 states.

There were 19 outreaches to Massachusetts Life Care facilities totaling 150 days of tax-funded medical care. According to Forbes, “The private company had 2020 sales of $2.7 billion from nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior living communities…”

Lifecare did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

As reported by 25 Investigates in September, DPH ordered a Rapid Response team to Advinia Eastpointe in Chelsea after firefighters reported finding residents roaming a hall with no nurse in sight. When asked, a staff member said a nurse assigned to the wing left after a double shift and there was no one to replace her, according to a Chelsea Fire Department report. It was the Rapid Response Team’s fourth deployment to Eastpointe since April 2020, according to DPH records.

The state has been billed for 95 days of emergency staff at care homes owned by Eastpointe’s parent company, AdviniaCare. Chris Hannon, Chief Operating Officer, AdviniaCare, released a statement to 25 Investigates. Part of it reads:

“Several AdviniaCare centers, like many others in the care home industry, have faced dramatic staffing challenges during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The state has had the foresight to create a rapid clinical response…we ensure safe staffing at all of our centers and continue to provide quality care to our residents.”

DPH data shows the state was billed for 101 days of staff at Royal Health-operated locations and 207 days at Connecticut-based Bear Mountain Health Care facilities.

Roberta Henderson is the sole owner and manager of Sudbury Pines, an independent nursing home that opened in Sudbury in 1965. She said the 95-bed facility primarily serves low-income patients who rely on Medicaid.

She said a quick response has been a “godsend” when her staff and patients have fallen ill.

When asked about repeat assignments at large for-profit chains, Henderson said, “You can have massive amounts of finance and support to manage most of these events. While we are independent, we are on our own. I was worried about calling her a few times and I called her myself.”

Dignity Alliance Massachusetts is a group that advocates for vulnerable populations in residential communities. Co-Founder Arlene Germain expressed surprise when we shared DPH data showing Rapid Response Teams were deployed 376 times and often to the same facilities.

Germain said if nursing homes paid and managed their workers better, there would be less turnover and fewer staff emergencies

“These people care about lives, so they need to be paid for the kind of work they do. If the state did put one of these teams on a nursing home, it would have to be accompanied by a freeze on admissions because the residents are obviously at risk,” she said.

A DPH spokesman told 25 Investigates, “DPH will take no action against a nursing home or its parent company if it accepts the help of a Rapid Response Team.”

The latest contract extends rapid response to at least March 2023.

Adriana Kosiba said her father developed an infection within days of arriving at Life Care of the South Shore and required hospitalization. Nicholas Pierro was already battling cancer and died on October 6th.

“My dad was there for six days and I think it really changed his life irrevocably. After that, he was never the same,” she said.

Rapid response contracts are created by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (HHS). A request to speak to HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders went unanswered.

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