Fight over nursing home funding intensifies
The fate of nine financially troubled Connecticut nursing homes could hinge on the answer to one question: Did legislators know their approval of a new budget last fall would trigger immediate cutbacks in state aid to homes with high vacancy rates?
Gov. Ned Lamont and the top Republican in the Senate said the Democrat-controlled insist legislature knew the risks, but the Senate co-chair of the budget committee and the state’s largest nursing home association disagree.
“We were under the impression other things were going to be taken into consideration before any revenue was taken from nursing homes,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.
Osten is one of the principals who negotiated with the Lamont administration on the new two-year budget that legislators adopted and Lamont signed back in June. That package includes a provision that allows the Department of Social Services to reduce state payments to nursing homes with vacancy rates of 30 percent or more.
DSS announced rate reductions in mid-August that would cost nine nursing homes a collective $5.3 million across this fiscal year and next combined. The nursing homes that stand to lose funds based on the vacancy standard are located in Bristol, Fairfield, Hamden, Shelton, Simsbury, South Windsor, Torrington, Wallingford, Waterbury and Wolcott.
But Osten said legislative leaders’ understanding was that rate reductions would not be imposed immediately and not before DSS analyzed the impacts of potential facility closures, including the potential loss of vital specialized services such as dialysis, hospice, and various chronic care programs.
No one anticipated rate reductions ordered within the first two months of the fiscal year — which began July 1, she added.
The Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents about 160 nursing homes, sent a memo Tuesday to legislative leaders also insisting that the General Assembly and the indystry weren’t aware of the full impact of this policy change.
And while DSS does consider appeals of its decisions, the new policy gives the affected homes no grace period to correct the vacancy issue before funds are reduced, wrote Matthew Barrett, the association president.
“This is the heart of why nursing homes are calling for a special session to repeal the statutory provision,” Barrett wrote. “Operators were not aware and had no opportunity to address the issue.”
But Lamont insisted in a letter to Osten and to the Appropriations Committee’s other co-chair, Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, that he first proposed the new high-vacancy penalty in February.
“My administration gave full and fair notice,” the governor wrote, adding that all homes also received a 2 percent rate increase to improve staff wages and benefits.
Lamont added that DSS will review all appeals arguments raised by the affected homes. The agency, he said, “will evaluate local impact of the rate reductions, take into consideration the direct and indirect repercussions of such changes, and consider viable options to the adjustment of their operational model.”
Osten said Democratic leaders have not decided whether to hold a special session this fall to repeal the nursing home rate provision, but that option is under discussion.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called last week for a special session.
But he disagreed Tuesday with Osten and with Barrett that the Democrat-controlled legislature didn’t understand the full ramifications of what it approved, and he said the nursing home association needs to be more aggressive.
“Pressure needs to be put on the party that developed and approved this policy change and funding cut,” Fasano wrote in a response to Barrett. “I implore your organization to take a stronger stand on behalf of the nursing homes and all the vulnerable seniors they support who are jeopardized by the Democrats’ budget.”
Democratic legislative leaders countered last week that Fasano’s criticisms mean very little, given that GOP caucuses in the Senate and House offered no alternative budget last session to avert major projected deficits.
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