Why are America’s cash-starved nursing homes still paying their rent?

Moe Tkacik
12 min readMar 30, 2021
Source: SEIU 1199

Understaffed elder care facilities lost 175,000 residents to Covid, then laid off 12% of workers. But their landlords are doing $well.

When Covid-19 began exterminating everyone around her a year ago, Gloria Duquette thought Genesis Healthcare did a pretty okay job. The biggest nursing home chain in America owns one of the three senior care facilities in which Duquette works as a nursing assistant, and Genesis was the first to give all the workers hazard pay and N95 masks. When she showed up to work wearing one at her morning job at the St. Mary Home in West Hartford, Connecticut, “they laughed at me,” she remembers. “They said, there’s no Covid in the building.” But the Covid was everywhere: and St. Mary ended up losing more than a hundred patients to it, she says. (The official count was only ten, but like a lot of nursing homes St. Mary didn’t report the deaths of residents who died at the hospital.) The Genesis home Kimberly Hall, by contrast, lost just over 70 between its two buildings, and only about 22 in Duquette’s.

But by summer the tables had turned, and the St. Mary Home had learned its lesson. Management spent thousands of dollars getting the building fully sanitized and stockpiling PPE, and established a dedicated Covid wing with its own elevator. A small outbreak came in via a hospital patient on the rehab floor, and immediately everyone was tested and quarantined, and when she worked in the Covid wing she only had four patients to look after, so she could monitor their vitals and oxygen levels constantly. “We didn’t lose a single patient to Covid after the first wave,” she says proudly.

Genesis, on the other hand, seemed to stop caring. The housekeeping budget was slashed, the infection protocols mostly abandoned; when nurses lobbied for new blood pressure equipment and thermometers to use exclusively on Covid patients, management bristled, instructing them to just sanitize everything between patients instead, which might have been a less comical prospect if they hadn’t laid off dozens of staffers now that occupancy was down. They’d also taken in psychiatric patients — “who might try to grab a CNA’s boob or say ‘fucking this and fucking that’” — and…

Moe Tkacik

senior fellow at the American Economic Liberties Project, co-founder of Jezebel, former Wall Street Journal reporter, off-again waitress, mommy