Federal officials issue major fines for Brighton Rehab’s COVID-19 response despite 5-star rating

BEAVER CO., Pa. — A nursing home in Beaver County is facing more than $60,000 in federal fines for how it handled the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of 440 residents and staff have been infected at Brighton Rehab & Wellness Center, and 80 residents have died – more than any other nursing home in the state.

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So far, the federal investigation has reportedly led to $62,580 in fines for Brighton issued by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS), which regulates nursing homes.

The fines are related to infection control and medical record keeping. The investigation continues and more fines are still possible.

In addition to these latest fines, CMS has also fined Brighton three other times since 2017, totaling an additional $63,979. Those fines posted on the Medicare.gov Nursing Home Compare website are:

  • $9,623 on 05/16/2019
  • $8,908 on 04/02/2018
  • $45,448 on 07/11/2017

Rare federal investigation

The fines are the result of a three-day investigation at Brighton Rehab last month. It stemmed from the overwhelming number of deaths at the facility and concern over Brighton's COVID-19 response, as well as the state health department's oversight of the facility.

The National Guard had to be sent in to assist Brighton with its coronavirus response in May as the number of deaths continued to spiral and state Department of Health efforts to regulate and help the facility didn't seem to make a difference.

At the time in May, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited Beaver County and confirmed CMS made the rare move of sending its own investigators into the facility.

"They're under investigation right now, both by the state, as well as by CMS," Azar said then. "I wanted to be here frankly near Brighton just so the people of Western Pa. know how seriously the national government is taking this issue.”

Usually nursing home inspections are handled by the state, but because Brighton had so many deaths, Azar said the federal government was compelled to step in.

"In this instance, we felt the situation was frankly so devastating in terms of the human impact and the pervasiveness, that we actually sent federal inspectors in for that,” Azar said then.

CMS website contradiction

In the search for information about the federal investigation of Brighton, 11 Investigates discovered conflicting information about the facility on the CMS Medicare.gov Nursing Home Compare website.

Despite the ongoing federal investigation of Brighton and giving the facility an overall “Below Average” rating, CMS shows Brighton as having a five-star “Much Above Average” rating for Quality of Care, the highest rating possible.

Under the circumstances, the overwhelmingly positive rating seemed unusual.

11 Investigates submitted an inquiry to CMS regarding both the $62,580 in fines against Brighton and the five-star rating for the facility on its website, asking if it is a mistake. The response indicated the five-star rating is not a mistake but was qualified with a comment suggesting the rating might not be accurate.

“These ratings do not include any surveys conducted on or after March 4 because of CMS’s re-prioritization of surveys announced on March 23.”

That means the recent inspection which resulted in the more than $62,000 in fines for “Immediate Jeopardy” are not included. CMS did not respond to follow up questions asking if five stars is an accurate reflection of Brighton’s quality of care given its coronavirus response and at least 80 COVID-19 deaths.

It’s important to note: families look at these ratings on the CMS Nursing Home Compare website to evaluate nursing homes and decide whether to send loved ones there.

Brighton response

In response to a request for comment about the fines, Brighton Rehab sent Channel 11 a written statement.

The statement did not provide any specifics about what stride are being made. (You can read the full statement below).

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have closely adhered to the strict guidelines set forth by health officials. While we must continue to be vigilant in our fight against COVID-19, we are making tremendous strides in our ability to gain control of this virus and remove it from our facility. We are thankful for the tireless work of our dedicated staff as well as the assistance of those who have supported our facility and residents throughout this pandemic. We remain committed to working hand-in-hand with all local, state and federal authorities to defeat COVID-19 together.”