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The news side of this outfit published something of a national scoop over the weekend, specifically on the front page, even more specifically about nursing homes. According to the journalists in the newsroom--this time Eric Besson, Kat Stromquist, and their editors--three nursing homes in Arkansas accepted tens of thousands of dollars in federal covid-19 aid, even though the homes had closed before the pandemic even started.

There are other closed nursing homes across the country that have taken the money, too, according to the story.

The nursing homes are letting their attorneys do the talking to reporters, which is smart on their part. A couple of the homes, which apparently received more than $30,000 combined, returned the money after the newspaper inquired about it. That's according to their lawyers. A third home is reviewing "federal guidance" on what to do next.

We refer you to Sunday's news account for all the particulars. Here are just a few of the details:

• Earlier this year, Congress allocated $175 billion to health-care providers to fight this virus.

• To get the money out quickly, officials sent payments to all providers who billed Medicare in 2019. They didn't have to apply, only accept or reject the cash.

• The three Arkansas homes that made the papers closed in December. Arkansas didn't get its first positive case of covid-19 until March.

• It doesn't appear, from our reading, that these nursing homes did much wrong, or at least wrong on purpose; it seems they just got money from a fast-moving process incorrectly. One of the attorneys told the paper that the 30-day window for returning the funds hasn't closed yet.

• Still, our investigative reporters wrote that there are other nursing homes around the country that have received this money and long ago closed shop. The money given to those homes, in the midwest, totaled about $46,000.

• And not all states responded to our reporters, so there could be more examples.

According to reporters. Which is the point.

This is going to get dangerously close to tooting our own horn, but perhaps this commentary won't be so unseemly after we note the strict separation at this newspaper between news and opinion. Those of us who write the newspaper's point of view on topics each day have no idea what the news side is working on, or when it will publish. And those of us on the editorial side of things don't ask for the opinions of news reporters and editors. Those reporters and editors who investigated these nursing home payments will read this at the same time you do, Gentle Reader. That is, this morning. If they wake up before noon.

There are many newspapers that don't do this kind of work any more. Because they don't have the staff. The next time you drive to Destin, Fla., try stopping at a few towns in north Louisiana, central Mississippi and Alabama. And pick up newspapers there. You'll notice that most of them have skeleton staffs, publish mostly national wire copy, and do no more local reporting than the regional TV stations. Because they have about the same number of reporters as TV stations. (Which is to say only a handful.)

That this newspaper can sic two reporters on a story and have them sniff out discrepancies and inconsistencies in a government program such as this is a rarity in middle America. Oh sure, The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times have a lot more resources than anything that will ever be printed in Arkansas. But would the Journal or the Times investigate $30,000 disparities in a handful of nursing homes west of the Mississippi River? Doubtful.

Note that a couple of the nursing homes began giving back the money after the newspaper called. That's your money, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. You want it going to the right place.

And this is just one example, on one weekend, in one news cycle. No telling what Mike Wickline, Rachel Herzog, Ginny Monk and the other reporters are investigating today and will publish tomorrow. Or into which agency their editors will unleash them.

This used to be par for the American democratic course. This is what newspapers used to do. Their raison d'etre. But in recent years, many have either been cut to the bone or shut down. That trip to Destin will confirm it.

The loss of ad revenue has been a large reason. This newspaper has felt the pinch, or maybe the suffocating bear-hug, of such loss. And many of our friends have left the business involuntarily. It's been a heartbreaking decade. Because of that loss of advertising, this newspaper has had to rely more and more upon subscribers like you, for whom we write, report and opine. And the service we provide?

You know about a $30,000 discrepancy there, a $46,000 mistake there. And it's all your hard-earned but easily spent tax money. And other reporters are working right now, crossing their eyes and adjusting their glasses, looking at the small print in juvenile listings, legislative mileage rates, lottery revenues, political complaints, school transfers ... . All this and Dilbert, too.

In case anybody is wondering, we're proud of this newspaper--and have tremendous respect for our professional colleagues on the news side.

Consider this an essay on how your money is spent, y'all. On government programs that direct money in the wrong places. And on newspaper subscriptions that let you read all about it.

Editorial on 05/27/2020

Print Headline: Nursing wounds

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