Listen Live

(INDIANAPOLIS) — The agency which oversees Eskenazi Health is defending its performance before a City-Council Committee.

Health and Hospital Corporation CEO Matt Gutwein hasn’t given a reason for the resignation he announced on Monday. But he announced his September 30 exit three weeks after the Indianapolis Star revealed a secret settlement with American Senior Communities, the company which operates the agency-owned nursing homes. Two top ASC executives and three other men pleaded guilty in 2017 to swindling the agency with phony or inflated invoices. The Star cited an internal ASC report which placed the amount of the fraud $20 million beyond what was recouped in the settlement.

Despite the scandal, ASC continues to run the agency’s 83 long-term care facilities, and Health and Hospital CFO Daniel Sellers told skeptical council members the agency hopes to continue the contract when it expires in 2022. He says the fraud was the work of the individual defendants, not the company — he argues ASC was just as much a victim as the county was. And he says changing operators would have been disruptive for the facilities and their residents.

Sellers also pushed back on questions about why the corporation owns those nursing homes in the first place. Owning the facilities makes the county eligible for extra federal money — $1.6 billion dollars. Nearly two-thirds of that money has gone to other parts of the budget, like Eskenazi Hospital. Sellers says the practice is not only legal but no secret, with regular audits by both the state and federal government.

Sellers rejects suggestions the practice has left the nursing homes underfunded or residents without proper care. He says all but 12 have been rated at four or five stars by the federal government.

Sellers acknowledges there have been 419 coronavirus deaths in agency-owned facilities, but says the heaviest death toll was in the first month or two of the pandemic, when testing was limited and the virus wasn’t as well understood. He says the agency’s facilities have 39 active cases now, none in Marion County. And he argues several studies have concluded the most significant factor in long-term care outbreaks has nothing to do with the facilities themselves, but with the level of the outbreak in their communities.