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Maryland nursing homes get $75M in federal funds to combat coronavirus, but many still face dire outlooks

The federal government said Friday it is sending nearly $75 million to 208 Maryland nursing homes to help them combat the coronavirus, covering surging labor and equipment costs but perhaps not preventing some facilities from shutting their doors, industry leaders said.

The money comes out of the $175 billion in relief funds authorized under the CARES Act for hospitals and other health care providers.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the money would help facilities deal with shortages of personal protective equipment and labor and other financial pressures as many of them face major outbreaks of COVID-19.

Many have been spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on masks, gowns and other protective equipment, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased payroll costs, said Kevin Heffner, CEO of LifeSpan Network, which represents elder care providers in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

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In Maryland, most nursing homes have confirmed at least one case of the disease the coronavirus causes, and dozens of facilities have reported double-digit death tolls.

Joe DeMattos, CEO of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, said the money could make “a big difference” for skilled nursing centers.

“In their fight against COVID-19, nursing homes have paid increased wages, hero bonuses and inflated prices for PPE,” he said. “These federal funds certainly help.”

Mark Parkinson, CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, called the money “an important step toward ensuring residents in long term care facilities receive the vital support needed during this unprecedented public health crisis.” But he said the “gravity” of the situation means many long-term care facilities still will need more help, including additional testing, personal protective equipment and funding.

The $75 million "doesn’t begin to meet the need” many nursing homes are facing, Heffner said. The stimulus funds — $50,000 per nursing home, plus $2,500 per bed in each facility — average out to less than $350,000 for each of the country’s nursing homes, he said. In comparison, he said, one nursing home administrator told him payroll costs surged by $300,000 in April.

Hospitals, on the other hand, are receiving tens of millions of dollars in stimulus funds, on average, Heffner added. Those facilities are facing dire budget forecasts of their own as they prepared for surges of coronavirus patients and as most other procedures and care came to a halt over the past couple of months.

Many nursing homes, especially smaller and independently owned facilities, may soon struggle to keep their doors open, Heffner said.

“We’re having continuing talks with regulators about how we’re going to keep nursing homes open,” he said. “We’re really going to have to figure out how we’re going to take care of older people in the longer term, because nursing homes are going to be shutting their doors.”

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