A recent press release from Sen. Brad Farrin looks to draw attention to Maine’s high number of COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and the lack of financial support provided to them by the Mills administration.
According to data recently released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for the week ending on May 2, Maine led the nation in COVID-19 infections and had the sixth highest rate in the nation for deaths among nursing home residents. That marks the fourth time in six weeks Maine’s infection rate for nursing home residents has been the highest in the nation.
Of the 807 COVID-19 deaths in Maine, 440 have been people in long-term care facilities. That means approximately 55% of COVID-19 related deaths in the state have occurred in nursing homes.
But as Farrin pointed out in an appearance on News Center Maine on Tuesday, though Mills recently announced her plan for spending $1.13 billion in coronavirus relief, only $12.5 million of it was allotted to nursing homes. That accounts for approximately 0.09%.
Mills, whose administration had discretion last year on how to allocate the money earmarked for the state through the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), spent a similarly small amount on healthcare.
Approximately 3% of the $1.25 billion Maine received in CRF was spent on healthcare businesses. The majority of this money was spent on purchasing personal protective equipment for the stockpile maintained by the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is distributed to long-term care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.
As of March 15, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved $4,102,516 of submitted expenses related to the purchase of PPE. Maine also spent approximately $1 million of CRF on infection training for nurses in congregate care facilities.
But while the state specifically dedicated CRF funds to helping public universities and agencies like the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory with the costs of testing and screening for COVID-19, it neglected to set aside any funds for nursing homes to help with the costs of testing and screening, despite guidance from the Department of the Treasury’s Office of the Inspector General that made clear this was an appropriate use of CRF funds.
According to Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, the lack of CRF funds dedicated to nursing homes have been offset by other funding measures, including programs directly funded by the federal government, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the CARES Act Provider Relief fund.
On March 26 of last year, Maine DHHS announced it was providing additional payments through MaineCare to help nursing homes deal with the additional costs of screening and infection control. The Mills administration also moved forward the start date of a temporary increase in pay rates provided through MaineCare, from July 2020 to April of 2020, accounting for approximately $11.8 million in state and federal funding. However, this raise was only temporary and expired in June 2020.
Some facilities reportedly spent money received from this raise on PPE, which suggests the money allocated to distributing this through the CARES Act was insufficient. Critics of the level of help the state has provided to nursing homes, like Rick Erb, president and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, point to the temporary nature of many of the funding programs provided by the state, which are now depleted.
Maine DHHS also points to recent budget measures as proof of its dedication to helping nursing facilities deal with the increased costs of COVID-19. The budget Mills signed into law last month includes $17 million in increased funding for nursing homes and residential care facility provider pay rates in Fiscal Year 2022. Last week, Mills released a budget proposal that would provide an additional $27 million for increasing provider payment rates in Fiscal Year 2023.
But these increases are all in the future and offer nursing homes little help to deal with COVID-19 cases now, when Maine’s COVID-19 nursing home infection and death rates are among the highest in the nation.