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Black and Latino Covid-related nursing home deaths linked to overcrowding

A high percentage of Covid-related deaths at Illinois nursing homes were linked to facilities that had more residents sharing a room.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Overcrowding at some Illinois nursing homes caused a disproportionate number of preventable deaths among Black and Latino residents living in those facilities, state officials said Wednesday.

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services is proposing $300 million in new funding for nursing homes that hire more workers or take other steps to benefit residents. Department director Theresa Eagleson told lawmakers heavy reliance on putting three or four people into one room was far more common in Medicaid-funded homes serving Black and Hispanic residents. As a result, 60% of COVID-related deaths of nursing home residents between March and July 2020 occurred in facilities where at least 10% of residents were in rooms with three or more people.

Eagleson said her department is working on a proposed change in the Medicaid rate structure that will need legislative approval. It will more closely tie enhanced rates to higher staffing levels and good performance.

Under the plan, nursing homes would pay an additional “bed tax” that the state, in turn, would use to receive a higher federal match through the Medicaid program. The increase would bring in about $300 million more to improve care, according to HFS.

Donna Ginther of the Health Care Council of Illinois, which represents about half of the nursing homes in the state, said homes would be willing to contribute more revenue if it was dedicated to patient care. She also called for increased reimbursement rates in light of increased costs, saying their facilities do not have the money they need to increase staff and wages, and recruit new workers.

Democratic Rep. Lakesia Collins of Chicago, a former certified nursing assistant in nursing homes, said the understaffing issues aren’t new but have been magnified by the pandemic. She said any rate reform must have safeguards to prevent homes from falsifying records to justify higher rates.

“With this industry, in particular, it’s about profits over people,” she said.

The report noted Illinois boosted funding for nursing homes three times in recent years but saw little improvement in staffing levels. That included $70 million appropriated in 2019 to help nursing homes meet minimum staffing requirements.

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