Stimulus money could pose dilemmas in nursing homes

FILE - In this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, a health worker arrives to take a nose swab sample as part of testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus at a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle. Nursing home residents are among the Americans getting $1,200 checks as part of the U.S. governments plan to revive the economy in 2020. But with many long-term care facilities under lockdown to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, what are the rules around how the money is handled? (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
FILE - In this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, a health worker arrives to take a nose swab sample as part of testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus at a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle. Nursing home residents are among the Americans getting $1,200 checks as part of the U.S. governments plan to revive the economy in 2020. But with many long-term care facilities under lockdown to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, what are the rules around how the money is handled? (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW YORK – Nursing home residents are among the Americans getting $1,200 checks as part of the U.S. government’s plan to revive the economy. But with many long-term care facilities under lockdown to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, what are the rules around how the money is handled?

The situation underscores the vulnerability of many elderly residents and potential confusion about what homes can and can’t do with residents’ money.

One worry is that nursing homes could pressure residents to use the checks to pay outstanding balances. Another is that relatives who aren’t legal representatives could demand to be in charge of the money, putting staff in difficult situations.

Visitor bans put in place months ago are making it difficult to tell whether such problems are widespread, since residents may be reluctant to express concerns by phone, said Lindsay Heckler of the Center for Elder Law and Justice.

“We just don’t know,” she said.

Residents can have personal accounts at nursing homes that are subject to federal regulations, a common setup that can be convenient for both parties.

For those on Medicaid, income such as Social Security checks may have to go to the nursing home to cover the cost of care. But residents are entitled to keep about $50 a month of income for personal spending, which is often deposited in those personal accounts at the home — and is in many cases where stimulus money would be deposited.

Gregory Cole, a 70-year-old in southwest Ohio, said he walks up to a window at his nursing home when he wants to withdraw money from his account.