Background: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) funded demonstration project to evaluate financial incentives for nursing facilities providing care for 6 clinical conditions to reduce potentially avoidable hospitalizations (PAHs). The Optimizing Patient Transfers, Impacting Medical Quality, and Improving Symptoms: Transforming Institutional Care (OPTIMISTIC) site tested payment incentives alone and in combination with the successful nurse-led OPTIMISTIC clinical model. Our objective was to identify facility and resident characteristics associated with transfers, including financial incentives with or without the clinical model. Methods: This was a longitudinal analysis from April 2017 to June 2018 of transfers among nursing home residents in 40 nursing facilities, 17 had the full clinical + payment model (1726 residents) and 23 had payment only model (2142 residents). Using CMS claims data, the Minimum Data Set, and Nursing Home Compare, multilevel logit models estimated the likelihood of all-cause transfers and PAHs (based on CMS claims data and ICD-codes) associated with facility and resident characteristics. Results: The clinical + payment model was associated with 4.1 percentage points (pps) lower risk of all-cause transfers (95% confidence interval [CI] − 6.2 to − 2.1). Characteristics associated with lower PAH risk included residents aged 95+ years (− 2.4 pps; 95% CI − 3.8 to − 1.1), Medicare-Medicaid dual-eligibility (− 2.5 pps; 95% CI − 3.3 to − 1.7), advanced and moderate cognitive impairment (− 3.3 pps; 95% CI − 4.4 to − 2.1; − 1.2 pps; 95% CI − 2.2 to − 0.2). Changes in Health, End-stage disease and Symptoms and Signs (CHESS) score above most stable (CHESS score 4) increased the risk of PAH by 7.3 pps (95% CI 1.5 to 13.1). Conclusions: Multiple resident and facility characteristics are associated with transfers. Facilities with the clinical + payment model demonstrated lower risk of all-cause transfers compared to those with payment only, but not for PAHs.