Aug 26, 2022 - News

A private equity firm bought a Henrico nursing home, and deaths doubled

Illustration of an elderly man in a wheelchair with a giant quarter for a wheel
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

What happened when a profit-obsessed private equity firm bought a beloved Henrico County nursing home?

  • Things went downhill fast, according to an investigation published Thursday by the New Yorker.

What's happening: The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns dedicated to caring for the elderly, had been operating St. Joseph's Home for the Aged in the Richmond area for more than 150 years.

The new buyer: The Portopiccolo Group, a private-equity firm based in New Jersey that owns more than 100 nursing homes.

  • Under its management, staffing was cut, amenities were slashed and COVID cases spiked, residents, their family members and staff told the New Yorker.

Details: The home went from just over 100 employees to 60. Meanwhile, the number of deaths at the facility shot up, from seven in 2020 to 13 within the first four months under new management.

Zoom in: Bob Cumber told the magazine he cherished the care his 104-year-old mother Bertha had received from the nuns.

  • He said the shift under the new ownership was obvious: She became unkempt, lost weight, developed open bedsores and told him "she was ready to pass away."
  • She died four months after Portopiccolo bought the property.

The other side: Portopiccolo disputed most staff and patient accounts, but declined to go into detail, according to the New Yorker.

  • The company positioned itself as a savior, describing St. Joseph's as a "train wreck" prior to the purchase, according to a former director of the nursing home.

The big picture: Private equity firms' investment in nursing homes has shot up from $5 billion in 2000 to more than $100 billion as of 2018, and studies show health outcomes for patients in facilities they own have gotten measurably worse as a result, per the New Yorker.

  • One recent study found that mortality rates were on average 10% higher at nursing homes owned by private equity firms.
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