CLEVELAND — A News 5 investigation found a federal government program provided millions of dollars in bonuses to nursing homes that repeatedly failed to safeguard against infection during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, the Health Resources and Services Administration awarded $2 billion in quality incentives to nursing homes across the country.
In Ohio, 873 nursing homes received $87 million in quality incentives. The criteria were based solely on COVID-19 infection rates and mortality rates over a four-month period.
The criteria for the awards did not take into account state inspection reports revealing widespread violations throughout the entire year.
A News 5 data analysis found 284 of the nursing homes, receiving $29.2 million in quality incentive awards, also were fined more than $6.7 million for infection control violations.
The Greens Care and Rehabilitation in Lyndhurst was fined $171,461 for infection control violations, but rewarded with $192,118 in HRSA quality bonuses, more than wiping out every penny of fines.
The facility has since been sold to new owners and has no current violations.
"There were widespread infections and yet the Feds were awarding nursing homes these bonus payments," said Brian Lee with Families for Better Care, an advocacy group monitoring nursing homes.
“A significant portion of the nursing homes nationwide were awarded these bonus payments regardless of their performance,” said Lee.
In Cleveland, Fairfax Health Center was fined $232,731 for infection control violations, yet received $70,578 in bonuses.
In New Philadelphia, Amberwood Manor was fined $29,217 for infection control violations, yet it was rewarded $39,164 in bonuses. In the very same year, Amberwood Manor's owner, Saber Healthcare, settled a Justice Department lawsuit. The company was accused of cheating Medicare. It agreed to pay $10 million while admitting no wrongdoing.
Peter Van Runkle heads up the Ohio Health Care Association representing Ohio nursing homes and argues the violations are not always linked to COVID-19 deaths or infections.
“Whether the facilities got cited for a deficiency in their infection control practices," Van Runkle said, the relationship to COVID cases is not always clear. "In some cases there may been, in other cases there may not have been, ” he said.
“There is certainly a problem with nursing home facilities that have long histories of not being very good at protecting the nursing home residents from infections and other health and safety violations in receiving this money,” said William Alvarado Rivera of the AARP.
News 5 reached out to the nursing homes named in this report but did not receive a response by our deadline.