Nursing Homes, Coronavirus and Medicaid

June 1, 2020 stgblase

How a program for the poor pushes Americans into poor-quality facilities.

By Stephen Moses and Brian Blase

A national tragedy began in March when Covid-19 killed 35 residents of Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. Since then, more than 22,000 nursing-home residents have died in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Nearly half of all Americans who have fallen victim to the novel coronavirus lived in nursing homes.

Politicians have made plenty of mistakes. Governors in several states, including New York and Pennsylvania, ordered nursing homes to take coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals and reversed the orders only after weeks of casualties. Families are suffering, forced to stare at their parents and grandparents through windows or talk only by phone. Overworked caregivers are at high risk of exposure.

Why do so many elderly people live in low-quality nursing homes? Almost no one wants to end up in a nursing home, and most families prefer not to place their loved ones in one. The main answer is the legacy of Medicaid, a Great Society program intended to help the poor.

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