Critics Call $1,000-a-Day State Offer a ‘Bounty’ to House COVID-Positive Residents

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By Jaxon Van Derbeken • NBC Bay Area • May 7, 2020

The state of California is offering assisted living homes with fewer than six residents $1,000 per day to take on COVID-19 patients, a move critics say is a recipe for disaster. Jaxon Van Derbeken reports.

Teresa Palmer’s mother, Berenice, turns 103 next month.

While Berenice is COVID-19 free, Teresa, a geriatrician, had worried about the risk when she heard the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living where Berenice lives was planning on a COVID-only wing. 

While she’s now satisfied the wing of the nursing home is taking precautions like installing a protective ventilation system, she is worried about the state’s plan to encourage assisted living homes to take in COVID-positive residents. 

“I don’t think it’s safe,” she said, stressing that assisted living facilities are often converted homes and are not required to have either medical staff or protective equipment. 

Still, the state Department of Social Services is now offering small care homes, those with six or fewer beds, $1,000 per day for every COVID-positive resident they take in. At that same time, the notice stresses the state is waiving many of its regulations. 

Critics say the offer amounts to a dangerous “bounty.”

“It’s Russian roulette,” said Jody Spiegel, an attorney and advocate for residents in assisted living homes. She says the state should be providing more protection for residents during the outbreak – not weakening oversight to encourage facilities to take on a challenge they are ill-equipped to handle.  

“We are giving facilities an incentive – a tremendous financial incentive – to accept these residents at the same time we relax the regulations that protect the health and safety of these residents,’’ she said. “So it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Michael Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long-Term Care Medicine agreed, saying the state’s incentive plan “makes no sense.”

Right now, he said, even skilled nursing homes are struggling to control COVID outbreaks. He questioned why the state could believe that assisted living homes – with little or no medical care – could be prepared to take a crush of residents.

“If I have a loved one in an assisted living facility,” Wasserman said, “this guidance scares the daylights out of me – this can only lead to bringing the virus in to assisted living facilities and group homes, where it may not already exist. and that is just so wrong.”

The state stresses in its notice to the 7,500 homes across the state that units with staff and infected residents have to be in separate facilities from the rest of residents. The $1,000 a day offer is restricted to the more than 5,000 homes that house six or fewer residents. The notice indicates the state wants the other facilities to negotiate a price. 

The social services agency, however, did not respond to questions about the notice that went out May 1, including how it will ensure that small homes will be able to implement that restriction. 

The latest data, released by the state Wednesday, shows more than 200 people have died due to outbreaks in assisted living facilities across the state that have sickened some 1,500 residents.