Nursing Home Residents Moved Out To Make Way For COVID-19 Patients : Coronavirus Updates Some nursing homes have switched to treating only COVID-19 patients, who bring in more government money. But to make room for them, the original residents are forced out of places they've called home.

Nursing Home Residents Moved Out To Make Way For COVID-19 Patients

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In some nursing homes, all of the residents - 100% - have tested positive for the coronavirus, and that's by design. These nursing homes have volunteered to devote themselves exclusively to treating COVID patients who bring in more government money. But to make room for them, the original residents can be forced out of the places that they've called home. NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging and has this report.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: When Ruby Hamilton was in her 90s, she needed full-time nursing care. And being an independent woman, she chose the nursing home she wanted. Her daughter Carolyn Oliver says her mother picked Westpark in Indianapolis. She was there for five years.

CAROLYN OLIVER: We knew the people. They knew us. So we were very comfortable with where she was at Westpark.

JAFFE: Then suddenly, in March, Oliver received a phone call saying that Westpark would be receiving COVID-positive patients. And therefore, her mother would be transferred to another nursing facility in the same chain.

OLIVER: It was probably about three days. It was almost immediate.

JAFFE: Federal law says that a nursing home resident has to receive 30 days' notice for an involuntary transfer and has the right to appeal, but the federal government waived that rule during the pandemic. So some nursing homes in Massachusetts, Texas, California and other states have converted to caring just for COVID-positive patients. Carolyn Oliver says her mother's new accommodation left much to be desired.

OLIVER: They had no TVs, no radios and no phone. So there was no contact to the outside world, period.

JAFFE: Ruby Hamilton deteriorated after the move. She died on the 4 of June. Sudden relocations can be dangerous for older adults, says Tracy Greene Mintz, a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on a well-documented syndrome called transfer trauma.

TRACY GREENE MINTZ: The shorter-term consequences are disability and death.

JAFFE: There are a lot of mental and emotional consequences, too, says Mintz.

MINTZ: More severe memory impairment where maybe there was only a mild one before the move. Emotional symptoms - sadness, anger, irritability.

JAFFE: Mintz says nursing homes can alleviate some of that trauma by telling people when they can expect to return, but that's not what happened to residents transferred from a nursing home in Leonard, Texas. And one of them says the results have been heartbreaking to witness.

UNIDENTIFIED NURSING HOME RESIDENT: Some don't understand, and they're so confused and so depressed - crying and just roaming the halls.

JAFFE: We agreed not to use this woman's name because she fears retaliation from her new nursing home for talking to the media. She liked her old place at Leonard Manor.

UNIDENTIFIED NURSING HOME RESIDENT: First day I arrived there, I said, oh, this is heaven.

JAFFE: But the facility needed an emergency repair, so residents were hastily moved to another nursing home 25 miles away run by the same chain.

UNIDENTIFIED NURSING HOME RESIDENT: They told us to bring five changes of clothes.

JAFFE: Because they'd be returning soon. That was in late January. But once residents were out, management decided to redecorate. Then they decided to make it a COVID-only facility. So the former Leonard Manor resident can't go back, and she's not too crazy about the place she's in now.

UNIDENTIFIED NURSING HOME RESIDENT: I've spent many a weekend in bed because there was no one to get me up.

JAFFE: And help her into her wheelchair. The nursing home cited in this story did not return multiple calls and emails seeking comment, so we don't know their motivation for becoming COVID-only facilities. But there is an undeniable financial incentive, says Dr. Michael Wasserman, a geriatrician who has been a nursing home medical director for decades.

MICHAEL WASSERMAN: Most nursing homes are filled with people who live there and are paid by Medicaid at rates that probably are less than what you spend to stay at the local Hilton Garden Inn.

JAFFE: But short-term patients, like those with COVID-19, are paid for by Medicare, which brings in up to four times more money. Wasserman says that's a lot of temptation for companies which are mostly for-profit.

WASSERMAN: My concern when COVID hit was there would be those in the industry who saw an opportunity to trade low-paying Medicaid residents for high-paying COVID patients.

JAFFE: Hundreds of residents have been transferred as a result of their nursing homes becoming COVID-only facilities. The total could very well be higher. At least a dozen states permit the practice, but only three states track the numbers. Clearly, the woman from Leonard Manor feels like no one is keeping track of what happens to her.

UNIDENTIFIED NURSING HOME RESIDENT: I try not to think too far ahead because I'm going to be disappointed if I do. I'm so afraid we'll never get back there.

JAFFE: So after bearing the brunt of COVID-19 fatalities and being cut off from family and friends, suddenly losing their homes is one more way that older adults in nursing facilities are suffering from the coronavirus. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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