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As the pandemic's death-count has surged and retreated, an oft-heard official excuse for mounting bodies is that the numbers are skewed by nursing-home deaths, implying that elderly people are disposable, their deaths inevitable.

In fairness to the politicians who made this ghastly excuse, they're only asking us to be consistent. After all, we've sat by as the eldercare industry was taken over by private equity, which transformed (pre-covid) nursing homes into abattoirs.

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The NBER paper "Does Private Equity Investment in Healthcare Benefit Patients? Evidence from Nursing Homes" tallies up the slaughter: 20,000 dead as a result of being entrusted to PE-backed nursing homes.

nber.org/papers/w28474

As Julia Rock and David Sirota write for Jacobin, "going to a PE-owned nursing home significantly increases the probability of death during the stay and the following 90 days compared to nursing homes with a different ownership structure."

jacobinmag.com/2021/02/nursing

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PE's playbook is to buy a company by borrowing against its assets, setting it up for failure by creating huge debt-overhangs which are exacerbated by further borrowing to pay the PE firm huge bonuses, dividends and fees.

Servicing the new debt means slashing expenditures ("finding efficiencies"). In nursing homes, that means less staff, less training, less care, worse food, fewer activities and more crowding. The researchers calculated PE's nursing home costs at "160,000 lost life-years."

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The nursing home sector is the most for-profit component of US health-care, with 70% of facilities operating on a for-profit basis. Even among for-profit centers, PE-owned facilities are the worst, the most abusive, the most lethal.

Not all of the excess profits wrung from these facilities goes to shareholders, of course. Part of that money is swapped for political capital.

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For example, Andrew Cuomo counts the sector among his top donors. It's no stretch to draw a line between those contributions and Cuomo's immunity rule for nursing home execs at the start of the pandemic, which became a charter to commit negligent homicide with total impunity.

Covid burned through the world's private nursing homes like wildfire, and PE-owned homes were the worst: in NJ, PE-backed homes had 24.5% higher infection rates and 10.2% higher death rates than the statewide average.

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This is bad, but it isn't new. The GAO sounded the alarm about excess deaths at privately owned nursing homes more than a decade ago.

We ignored them.

gao.gov/new.items/d11571.pdf

The political leaders who told us the covid death-toll was better than it seemed because so many of those deaths were disposable seniors in care homes were simply acknowledging a tacit consensus: that it's OK to kill old people for profit.

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