Letter to the editor: Hospitals’ nursing home ownership questioned

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To the editor:

Steve Long, CEO of Hancock Regional Hospital, told me the hospital owns 31 nursing homes across Indiana. It may seem reasonable to own nursing homes in our county, but why across the state?

The Indianapolis Star has been running a series of articles about 22 county hospitals owning 93% of the state’s nursing homes and “siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars, leaving Hoosiers with some of the worst nursing homes in America.” The Star states “to get that money, the hospitals embraced a plan pioneered by Matthew Gutwein, the chief executive of Marion County’s public health system. An investigation found that “at least $1 billion in supplemental Medicaid funding meant for nursing homes has been diverted to the State’s county hospitals since 2003. The total is likely much more. It could be nearly $3 billion.” Gutwein balanced the budget and build a gleaming new hospital new hospital (Eskenazi) without raising taxes. Hancock County has also seen gleaming new facilities across our county.

Indiana received $679 million last year in extra Medicaid payments to care for vulnerable nursing home residents – more than California or New York. Do we have the best nursing homes in America? About 39% of COVID-19 deaths across the country have been linked to long-term care facilities. In Indiana, long-term care residents account for 52% of the deaths, although they are only 1% of the population. Southwood Healthcare Center in Terre Haute, owned by Hancock Regional Hospital, was cited for insufficient staffing in August and September. The Star report stated, “Employees told inspectors ‘they did not feel there were enough staff to take care of the residents.’ Call lights were not answered, residents were not groomed and some did not receive their medicines. One man was found on the ground calling out for help, having soiled his pants. Southwood was in the bottom 6% in the nation for total nursing staff hours as of Oct. 1.”

These quotations and statistics are from published reports in The Star.

Ron Hackler