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Congressman calls for investigation into nursing home spending following 9Wants to Know story

9Wants to Know found 117 nursing homes were paid, fined and had outbreaks. Rep. Ken Buck said he wants to know why.

COLORADO, USA — A Colorado representative said an investigation is warranted after 9Wants to Know found 117 nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks that got both fined for poor response to the pandemic and paid for good response to the pandemic.

RELATED: 117 Colorado nursing homes with COVID outbreaks received fines and payments from the federal government

> The video above is the original 9Wants to Know investigation.

Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican who represents Colorado’s fourth Congressional district, said there should be an investigation into 9NEWS’ findings as soon as possible. 

“The American public continues to lose faith in our government when an agency pays a nursing home bonuses for superior performance at the same time fining the same facility for negligently endangering the lives of its residents by not following COVID guidelines,” Buck wrote.

This is the first time Buck responded after fielding three months of requests for an interview on the topic from 9NEWS.

RELATED: Colorado representatives refuse to answer questions about nursing home payments

The map below shows all 117 facilities that were paid, punished and had an outbreak. Created by Zack Newman.

Mildred Jimenez was one of the 1,103 people who died of COVID-19 at one of those 117 nursing homes. 

Carolyn Jimenez, Mildred Jimenez’s daughter, said she is grateful for the extra attention put on the issue by the Congressman. She said she wants to know how the money was spent and if additional monitoring was set up for facilities that may have had repeat fines. Most importantly - she said she wants more details on exactly what Buck plans to do and how he will do it.

“We need answers,” she said. “We need goals. We need to know what corrections are going to be made. What corrections are there? What’s the prevention plan?”

Jimenez called for others to contact legislators in their districts.

“I hope they speak up,” she said. “I hope that they do have a voice.”

"Immediate jeopardy" at Pioneer Health Care Center

Carolyn Jimenez said Mildred Jimenez was a woman of faith who adored her family -- and showed that love.

“She was a great cook,” her daughter, Carolyn Jimenez, told 9NEWS. “Always had an open door -- come in -- the smell of fresh tortillas, the smell of beans. … If you walked in the house, it was always come on, sit down, you know, are you thirsty? Are you hungry?”

Credit: Carolyn Jimenez
Mildred Jimenez was known for cooking delicious food and as a women who loved her family more than anything. Mildred Jimenez died from COVID-19 at Pioneer Health Care Center in Rocky Ford, Colorado.

The day after Mildred Jimenez died, inspectors visited Pioneer Health Care -- and they found infection control was so bad that the residents there were in “immediate jeopardy.” Staff members did not follow-up with those that reported symptoms or properly put protective equipment on or off. 

“Observations, record review and interviews revealed the facility failed to conduct active screening of staff in a manner to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the July 2020 inspection said.

As a result, Pioneer was fined $88,354.50.

Devin John, Pioneer’s administrator, called the incident an “unfortunate anomaly” in a statement to 9NEWS. The facility declined a chance to do an interview. 

“We are confident that our screening practices are safe and compliant with protocols,” John wrote. 

Pioneer also got paid $147,711.60 for it’s pandemic response.

 At the same time, it qualified for the payment because it had fewer cases than the surrounding community and fewer deaths than a federal benchmark.

John wrote the money was used towards “pandemic-driven demands” like purchasing protective equipment and staffing.

Martin Kramer, the director of communication for the Human Resources and Services Administration, said in an email the money was “intended to provide resources to providers to enhance their infection control activities” like hiring staff or increasing testing. 9Wants to Know continues to seek data on whether or not facilities spent money the way they were supposed to. 

The response from other Colorado lawmakers

Those 117 Colorado nursing homes split $12,760,505.92 in payments for protecting residents from COVID-19 -- even though they all had outbreaks of the disease and got fined for poor response to the pandemic.

It’s a situation not one member of Colorado’s congressional delegation was willing to discuss -- 9Wants to know requested interviews with U.S. Reps. Jason Crow, Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse and Ed Perlmutter, all Democrats, and Republicans Lauren Boebert, Ken Buck, and Doug Lamborn, as well as the state’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. Despite repeated requests, not one would answer questions from 9Wants to Know.

Two more -- Bennet and Perlmutter -- issued statements. 

Perlmutter said the convergence of payments and fines could be one of the things the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis within the House of Representatives looks into as it examines how money from stimulus legislation was spent. 

“I appreciate 9News looking into this matter,” Perlmutter wrote in his statement. “This is clearly something we need to gain a better understanding of so Congress can ensure HHS applies metrics consistently across its various programs.”

Bennet wrote that 9Wants to Knows’ findings make sense based on the structure of both programs.

“This incident demonstrates just how bad this pandemic was, especially for our seniors in nursing homes,” he wrote in the statement. “The pandemic was so severe that in some areas nursing homes could be doing better than their surrounding communities and still be overwhelmed by the situation and fined for lack of compliance.”

The map below shows all 117 facilities that were paid, punished and had an outbreak combined with the Congressional districts. Created by Zack Newman.

The full statement from U.S. Rep. Ken Buck: 

“The American public continues to lose faith in our government when an agency pays a nursing home bonuses for superior performance at the same time fining the same facility for negligently endangering the lives of its residents by not following COVID guidelines. The U.S. government needs to communicate with credibility so that citizens trust the information they receive. There should be an investigation into this immediately.” 

The full statement from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett:

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Colorado were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, only building on existing quality concerns in our long-term care system. It’s clear nursing homes and other health providers were not prepared for the pandemic and the lack of swift response and rollback of regulations that would have assured quality from the previous administration led to too many avoidable deaths.

Our office looked into your request and found that during the pandemic, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) did its job to assure quality in nursing homes, which led to fines . Additionally, legislation that Congress passed included funding to nursing homes that were doing better on COVID-19 infection control relative to the community they were located in. The fines and the awards were not tied to one another, which led to many nursing homes receiving both fines and awards.

This incident demonstrates just how bad this pandemic was, especially for our seniors in nursing homes. The pandemic was so severe that in some areas nursing homes could be doing better than their surrounding communities and still be overwhelmed by the situation and fined for lack of compliance.

Over the long term, Senator Bennet believes that we need to reform how this country cares for our seniors.  That’s why Senator Bennet is working with his colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee to pass reforms to our nursing home and long-term care system and continue to hold the bad actors accountable, including shutting them down if necessary. He has also requested a review on a number of issues related to COVID-19, including nursing homes, from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to provide an assessment and recommendations, which we will address once the reports are released. The first GAO report was released on May 19, 2021 which showed the frequency and duration of COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes from May 2020 through January 2021. Additionally, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on nursing home issues in March and intends to support legislation that addresses the concerns that were seen during, and even prior to, the pandemic.

The full statement from U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter:

“I appreciate 9News looking into this matter. This is clearly something we need to gain a better understanding of so Congress can ensure HHS applies metrics consistently across its various programs. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, which is why Congress directed additional support to these facilities in the CARES Act to support their patients. Congress acted swiftly with the CARES Act to stabilize a cratering economy and support our healthcare system, which is why the House later created the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis to conduct oversight of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus crisis and ensure taxpayer dollars were spent responsibly and effectively. The Select Subcommittee has launched a sweeping investigation into coronavirus deaths and distribution of funds to nursing homes, and I hope the Select Subcommittee will continue its work to ensure federal agencies are held accountable for all the funding Congress directed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Statement from Devon John, administrator at Pioneer Health Care Center:

I’m circling back on your inquiry here and am providing this statement. First and foremost, Pioneer is a great facility with fantastic staff. They are, and have truly been heroes this past year. As we’re all well aware now, June and July 2020 was when the SARS-coronavirus-19 was making its initial wave through facilities across Colorado. Our facility was no exception to its path. While privacy regulations prohibit us from commenting specifically on residents who were diagnosed with and/or passed from covid-19, as is very public information now Pioneer can say based on experience we know that covid-19 does complicate care for residents with pre-existing comorbidities—such as advanced age, etc.

The CDC, the Colorado Department of Health and all regulatory agencies were scrambling along side facilities like Pioneer to determine best protocols as the pandemic ramped up. As you also note, Pioneer—as well as almost all other facilities in the state and country—received funding to assist with escalating PPE, staffing, and other pandemic-driven demands.

With respect to the one screening deficiency noted on the July 29 survey, that is accurate in that there was a staff member whose pre-shift screening was not verified that day. We were fined for this. This was an unfortunate anomaly, as a concurrently conducted Covid-19 Emergency Survey found zero deficiencies (including staff screening). We are confident that our screening practices are safe and compliant with protocols.

All in all, we are heavily regulated by various health agencies and we are confident we are compliant with those agencies’ regulations and dynamic pandemic protocols.

Ways to contact your federal representatives:

Senators

Senator Michael Bennet: 202-224-5852 (DC), Contact Form, Office Information, @SenatorBennet

Senator John Hickenlooper: 202-224-5941 (DC), Contact Form, Office Information, @SenatorHick

Representatives

Congresswoman Diana DeGette (CD-1): 202-225-4431, Contact Form, Office Information, @RepDianaDeGette 

Congressman Joe Neguse (CD-2): 202-225-2161, Contact Form, Office Information, @RepJoeNeguse

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (CD-3): 202-225-4761, Contact Form, Office Information, @RepBoebert

Congressman Ken Buck (CD-4): 202-225-4676, Contact Form, Office Information, @RepKenBuck 

Congressman Doug Lamborn (CD-5): 202-225-4422, Contact Form, Office Information, @RepDLamborn

Congressman Jason Crow (CD-6): 202-225-7882, Contact Form,  Office Information, @RepJasonCrow

Congressman Ed Perlmutter (CD-7): 202-225-2645, Contact Form, Office Information, @RepPerlmutter

See the data for yourself:

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