InnovAge President Maureen Hewitt: PACE Model Uniquely Positioned to Respond to Coronavirus Crisis

In one of the latest sets of COVID-19 directions for Medicare providers, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled updated guidelines for all Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) organizations on Tuesday.

Broadly, CMS’s guidelines cover standard procedures for infection control and prevention for COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.

PACE programs are often run out of community-based centers with the support of in-home care providers and their staff.

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As of January, there were more than 130 PACE programs in 31 states. In total, the programs included 260 individual PACE centers serving upwards of 51,000 participants.

One of the largest PACE programs in the U.S. — if not that largest — is InnovAge, which is backed by PE powerhouse Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. Moving forward, the model is primed to be a key resource in the battle against COVID-19, InnovAge President and CEO Maureen Hewitt told Home Health Care News.

“The PACE model really is uniquely positioned to respond in this type of scenario,” Hewitt said in an email. “Our mission is to keep frail seniors in the community for as long as possible by supporting them with wrap-around, coordinated and comprehensive health care services that are individually designed for each senior.”

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Denver-based InnovAge offers PACE in Colorado, California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Virginia, serving almost 6,000 seniors. The organization has about 2,000 employees.

Tuesday’s PACE guidelines from CMS are meant to address the safety of seniors and others who have been deemed the most vulnerable in the wake of the global pandemic.

“It is critically important to ensure that those most at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 are protected in every care setting, including the seniors who rely on PACE centers as health care providers in their aily lives,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

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Above all, CMS’s guidelines for PACE serve as a reminder of the increasingly dire outcomes that are the result of the spread of coronavirus.

Currently, the coronavirus has reportedly impacted more than 200,000 people worldwide.

In the U.S., there were reportedly more than 7,000 cases as of Wednesday, but the exact number of cases is still unknown.

CMS’s guidance asserts that PACE organizations should follow infection control procedures, in particular, the ones set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Similar guidance has been issued for skilled nursing facilities as well.

The new guidance also suggests that PACE organizations should initiate and maintain a documented infection control plan. CMS requires the plans to outline infection identification and control measures for every PACE center and in each participant’s place of residence.

Additionally, PACE organizations are responsible for developing an action plan when infections occur.

Moreover, the guidance encourages PACE organizations to follow the CDC website and the CMS Emergency Preparedness & Response Operations website for the latest guidance and resources.

CMS requires organizations to provide diagnostic laboratory tests to identify COVID-19. Testing, however, remains a challenge throughout much of the country.

In terms of staff, CMS asked PACE organizations to implement sick leave policies that are “non-punitive, flexible and consistent with public health guidance.”

Amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis in the U.S., the lack of universal paid sick leave laws has become a hot topic.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed an emergency package providing paid sick leave and other benefits to Americans affected by COVID-19. The House passed the package earlier this week.

President Donald Trump promptly signed the emergency package Wednesday evening.

CMS’s guidelines have drawn support from PACE organizations across the country, including InnovAge.

“It’s great to see CMS’s support of PACE during this time, as I do believe the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly is the best health care option for the frail seniors in this country,” said Hewitt. “I’m thankful for the collaboration we’re seeing with CMS, other regulators, as well as public health agencies and health care providers, in this challenging time.”

InnovAge conducted 38,999 home care visits in 2018, according to its annual report from that year. Its total 2018 revenue was $319.35 million, with a 5.87% operating margin for program sustainability.

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