Senators’ Letter Is Not About the Quality of Senior Living: It is About the Power of Finance, Insurance, & Real Estate
The senior housing industry lobby has convinced 20 U.S. Senators to sign onto a letter to HHS Secretary Becerra asking him to direct more of the $23 billion left from the CARES Act into corporations that, in my opinion, haven’t demonstrated a need for more financial assistance. According to trade publication McKnight’s Senior Living, two powerful lobbying organizations, American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) and Argentum have been pressuring legislators to persuade the HHS Secretary to direct more government largesse into corporations such as Ventas, Welltower, and Sunrise – all of which have already benefited nicely from a plethora COVID-19 relief programs (Bipartisan group of 25 senators supports additional COVID aid for senior living – News – McKnight’s Senior Living (mcknightsseniorliving.com).
Advocates and activists should do everything possible to stop any immediate injection of more federal dollars into an industry that has provided no empirical evidence that it has suffered financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nor has the senior housing industry demonstrated that much of federal and state dollars channeled into senior housing corporations significantly improved care, wages, and working conditions.
The power of the lobby pushing for more government relief is immense. The special interests pressuring senators and house members comprise a juggernaut of finance, insurance, and real estate – otherwise known as FIRE or Wall Street. A massive river of money flows into campaigns and lobbying resources from real estate investment trusts, private equity firms, health care corporations, institutional investors, and other special interest groups acting on behalf of shareholders and executives.
Senior Housing Corporations Are Horizontally Integrated
According to the McKnight’s article, senior housing trade groups are claiming that all COVID assistance has been totally devoted to the skilled nursing (“nursing home”) segment of the industry. That is false for a couple of reasons: (1) senior housing is dominated by large real estate investment trusts owning and operating the gamut of living/care spaces such as continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), assisted living, and skilled nursing, and (2) Although the “nursing home” segment of the industry received a wider range of relief funds than most other types of corporations, direct grants and tax deferrals were available to all companies in senior living.
Companies such as Sunrise Senior Living, Brookdale Senior Living, Sabra, Omega, Welltower, and Ventas are intertwined in a massive real estate industry with the objective of protecting and enhancing shareholder value. My ongoing review of financial reports of publicly listed corporations involved in senior housing indicates that COVID did not present the same crisis for it that other industries incurred. Revenue, earnings, cash flow, and liquidity in general was in good shape for every public corporation with a wide array of senior housing services.
More detail pertaining to the finances of senior housing corporations will be provided on this blog in the days ahead. As I locate and organize publicly available financial data of REITs and their operators, it is becoming increasingly clear that the senior housing industry is manipulating public opinion by providing misleading information about the impact of COVID on their financial performance. The American Health Care/National Assisted Living Association (AHCA/NCAL), ASHA, Argentum, and other special interest groups in real estate and finance have been playing the public and legislators by claiming hardship while hiding the truth about how well they did in 2020.
If COVID Was So Financially Harmful to Senior Housing Corporations, Why Have Executives Been So Well Rewarded?
Former Welltower CEO Thomas DeRosa left the company last October with a 2020 compensation package of $14,589,584 (https://www.execpay.org/news/welltower-inc-2020-compensation-519). Shankh Mitra, his replacement, received a total compensation package of $9,557,434. DeRosa’s 2019 compensation totaled $13,142,124; Mitra’s totaled $5,728, 143 in 2019 – quite nice increases for a company needing federal assistance (https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/766704/000119312521118460/d49250ddef14a.htm).
Four of the five Welltower board members were paid from $300,000 to $352,000 (the lowest paid BOD member made $275,000). In its 2020 10-K report, Welltower stated that its primary objective is to “protect and enhance shareholder value.” Compensation packages for the board and officers indicate that the primary objective of the corporation was achieved in 2020, so why is more government assistance needed?
As proxy statements are released by major corporations in senior housing, it is becoming clear that CEOs were generously rewarded by their boards in 2020. For instance, Ventas CEO Debra Cafaro’s compensation increased from $11,348,335 in 2019 to $12,628,714. Ventas Executive VP and CFO’s compensation package took an amazing jump from $4,833,831 in 2019 to $13,116,202 in 2020! In the next few days, I will be highlighting the generous compensation packages received by CEOs that failed to protect hundreds of thousands of citizens in their care. Executive compensation packages I’ve seen so far suggest that “incentive pay” is a sham concocted between executives and their boards.
Advocates & Activists: Please Head Off Another Senior Housing Money Grab.
Any senior housing advocacy and/or activist group worth it’s salt should be all over this Wall Street money grab – aided and abetted by U.S. Senators. Here is a list of the 20 Senators who have signed onto the letter (initiated by Senators Collins and Sinema): Senators signing the letter in addition to Sinema and Collins include Michael Bennet (D-CO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Chris Coons (D-DE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Steve Daines (R-MT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), James Lankford (R-OK), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Todd Young (R-IN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
ASHA and Argentum are encouraging support of a similar letter in the House written by Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH). That letter is expected to close by week’s end.
My suggestion is that advocates and activists across the country come together and draft a letter to the HHS Secretary in which they insist that the finances of the senior housing industry be reviewed before any further COVID relief funding is made available to corporations providing assisted living, independent living, and skilled nursing. Many of these companies are closely held and will not disclose their consolidated income, balance sheet, and cash flow statements. Until they are willing to do that, the public should rebel against large injections of public funds into the senior housing industry.
Also, it is important to contact the senators on the above list and let them know that their support of more taxpayer funds that will most certainly reward investors and executives will prove embarrassing. As an increasing amount of 2020 financial data is discovered, organized, and reported, it is becoming clear that the American people are being played by an industry receiving undeserved subsidies. This is not about capitalism or the legitimate role of government. Rather, it is about a corrupt political process and senior housing system that we ignore at our peril.