In a week in which Congress appears ready to get down to work on several bills meant to ease workforce issues for struggling nursing homes, some elected leaders would rather create more busy work for some of the nation’s top senior care providers.

A group of five senators and representatives (four of them Democrats, alongside Independent Bernie Sanders) sent weekend missives to three executives, demanding they explain themselves for spending the profits they’ve earned.

This is clearly a publicity stunt by lawmakers who have been among the most vocal in demanding a new federal staffing minimum be established for the skilled nursing sector. Battered by colleagues who fear the predictions of closures by providers in their district are close to reality — not to mention, pleas from rural and cash-strapped nonprofit organizations — this quintet has picked three provider organizations to become the focus of their ire.

Too bad they missed the mark.

Sens. Sanders (VT), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (IL) and Lloyd Doggett (TX) came for big names with what sure seems like a shortsighted sense of the business that they actually do.

One of the firms they’re leaning on? Brookdale Senior Living, one of the nation’s largest senior living providers, whose skilled nursing services represented just 2% of its offerings last year, according to McKnight’s Senior Living.

And there’s the Ensign Group, which is undoubtedly one of the country’s biggest nursing home owners and operators. That said, the company has built a reputation in the sector for investing in quality, training and recruiting leaders intending to stay in their markets and generally lifting the industry. As it has grown to 310 healthcare facilities, Ensign has often acquired nursing homes with low staffing and quality ratings, poured new resources into them and then pushed them to achieve more.

That means the company is rushing in where others slowly fade away, keeping doors open and serving residents who might otherwise lose access to care.

But the letter-writing members of Congress didn’t ask any questions about how much firms like Brookdale, Ensign and fellow target National HealthCare Corp. have increased their spending on staffing and retention efforts over the last four years (only what certain employees are making now).

It’s easier to focus on metrics that make it look like a bad or dishonest business decision to remain profitable.

They slam the amounts the companies, all publicly traded, are paying for executive compensation, bonuses, salaries, stock buybacks and dividends. They seek to weaponize this publicly available data, a tactic that is at odds with the Biden administration’s push to increase transparency and oversight in the skilled nursing sector. Campaigns like these sure won’t make entice others to go public, knowing they’ll have to share their books with investors and financial regulators and still come up with more for overzealous legislators.

Those same lawmakers allege that the companies are telling two stories when they say complying with the new 3.48-hour direct care requirement and a 24/7 RN rule is impossible AND still report quarterly profits. But that’s a gross oversimplification of a complex issue, and they know it.

Provider after provider has told the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that they have increased pay, made jobs more flexible and otherwise bent over backward to attract nursing staff. But there are few candidates for permanent jobs. That means meeting new staffing standards will almost certainly require the use of more and more expensive agency nurses, pushing up costs to the Medicare and Medicaid systems, driving down quality and, sure, cutting into profits too. 

But no one in this pen pal group wants to listen to those arguments.

They’d rather distract and peddle in hypocrisy.

Case in point: The lawmakers had the audacity to demand information on how much of their profits these companies have spent on advocacy efforts opposing the staffing rule. Let’s hope they have asked the same of the SEIU, which takes its funding straight from the pockets of the frontline workers the letter writers claim to protect.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.