Slightly more than three quarters of eligible nursing homes across the country will receive a total of $333 million in federal aid after meeting infection control improvement benchmarks between August and September, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Wednesday.
The distribution marks the first payout in a $2 billion program designed to more closely link federal coronavirus relief funding to resident outcomes, which HHS rolled out this past summer.
In order to receive the cash, providers had to keep new infections at nursing homes below the prevailing rate in the surrounding county, while also ensuring that the number of deaths “falls below a nationally established performance threshold for mortality among nursing home residents infected with COVID.”
HHS then applied formulas quantifying the operators’ success at meeting those goals.
Of the nearly 14,000 facilities that qualified for the value-based competition, 10,631 met the infection control criteria, and 10,501 passed both the infection and death benchmarks, qualifying them for payment.
HHS estimated that the program reduced COVID-19 infections in nursing homes by 5,000 between August and September, and cut deaths by 1,200 over that span.
“These $333 million in performance payments are going to nursing homes that have maintained safer environments for residents between August and September,” HHS secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
Operators will receive their bonus payments next week, with four more opportunities to pull down additional funding for continued improvement — three subsequent monthly assessments and then an aggregate performance payment due for distribution in February 2021.
“HHS is encouraged by the promising September results but recognize [sic] this virus is dynamic and there is still opportunity for continued improvement,” the agency noted in a release announcing the payments. “Safeguarding nursing home residents from the perils of this devastating pandemic will remain a top priority for HHS.”
The $2 billion was part of a larger targeted injection of $5 billion that also included $2.5 billion for testing, staff, and personal protective equipment (PPE) expenses.
LeadingAge, which represents non-profit senior service providers, framed the news as proof that nursing homes can still succeed despite pandemic challenges, though the group also called on the government to provide more support for the beleaguered sector.
“With a rising count of over 60,000 nursing home deaths to date, this is no time to declare victory and walk away,” LeadingAge CEO Katie Smith Sloan said in a statement.