Michigan nursing homes rewarded thousands of dollars after not following COVID protocols

Hundreds of nursing homes cited

Questions are still being asked about COVID-19 care in Michigan’s nursing homes.

DETROIT – Questions are still being asked about COVID-19 care in Michigan’s nursing homes.

A Local 4 investigation shows hundreds of nursing homes were cited for not following COVID-19 protocols only to later receive thousands of dollars in rewards for good care.

“My mom’s gone. I can’t get her back,” Carol Albin said.

Albin lost her mother and her uncle while both were living inside the Rivergate nursing home in Riverview where COVID-19 spread quickly. Her mom passing last spring, her uncle over the summer.

READ: Nessel declines GOP request to probe Michigan COVID nursing home deaths

“I need some kind of justification,” Albin said.

Rivergate says neither died from the virus, although Albin’s mother was running a fever so high she couldn’t speak while other residents also developed symptoms. Hospital records obtained by Local 4 for Albin’s uncle show he was treated for symptoms suspected to be COVID-19 but he never tested positive. Then last September, the state sent a letter after an informal review. Albin read part of that letter for Local 4:

“Based on the observations, interview and record review, the facility failed to properly maintain infectious-control practices during a COVID-19 infection control survey,” Albin said.

Rivergate was among the hardest hit by the virus in metro Detroit during the peak of the first wave. Rivergate’s parent company, Life Care Centers of America, told Local 4 back in June that 55 residents died from COVID in the nursing home and at sister facilities next door.

Several months later, Rivergate was given thousands of dollars in reward money for quality care.

We asked Albin if they deserve this quality care money.

“No, no, not at all,” she said.

According to a review of federal and state records between March and August of 2020, Local 4 found 516 COVID-specific inspection reports for the state’s 435 facilities. These inspections were looking for everything from mask violations to failures that would put residents in immediate jeopardy:

  • 173 were considered in compliance.
  • 149 were given notices of failures.
  • 123 gave plans to fix those failures.
  • 26 didn’t give the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services a plan to fix their problems.

Maybe even more troubling, 194 were inspected, but the reports never say whether they were safe.

Six facilities in the state weren’t inspected for COVID-19.

READ: How many COVID-related deaths occurred in Michigan nursing homes? Lawmakers, families want answers

So what about the money?

That money is from the Nursing Home Quality Incentive program from HHS. The payments are based on a complicated equation based on resident cases over a certain period of time compared to county and community infections.

Many of these facilities received money after submitting a plan to fix covid protections others asked for what’s called a “desk review” in which an inspector evaluates a facility over the phone but in many cases a second inspection wasn’t listed. In fact, according to the state nursing homes are only inspected once roughly every 13 months.

Despite that, many nursing homes raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars including Rivergate. It received more than $356,000. In all, Michigan nursing homes and long-term care facilities received more than $48.4 million dollars while their patients accounted for roughly a third of the state’s covid deaths.

Rivergate was among those facilities that filed a plan to correct their COVID safety issues and maintain they were able to keep covid cases low after the outbreak.

Still seeking answers

Rivergate’s parent company, Life Care Centers of America, released the following statement after this story aired.

Albin still wants more answers.

“I think that in my heart. I feel that they are hiding so much. I think they made a lot of mistakes and I think there are a lot of families that suffered because of their mistakes,” Albin said.

There were a lot of nursing homes that were able to navigate the pandemic well that did receive this money but it’s also impossible to talk about nursing homes without talking about the state’s COVID-patient acceptance policy. So far experts throughout the industry still agree there’s no clear evidence that policy made conditions worse or that deaths could have been avoided by shifting patients to those regional hubs.

READ: More Michigan COVID coverage

About the Author:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.