Coronavirus Daily Update: Lawmakers Push for Official ‘Essential Worker’ Designation for Home Health Aides; Reopening Begins

During this critical time, Home Health Care News remains committed to bringing you all the essential news related to home-based care operations. At the same time, we also recognize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our regular content, we’ll continue to highlight industry-related developments and mitigation strategies in this rolling bulletin.null

What you need to know from Friday through Sunday (May 1-3)

— Two lawmakers are urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to explicitly name home health aides and child caregivers as essential workers in the next relief bill. The goal is to make sure these workers get free personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazard pay, among other benefits.

— A school in New York — Finger Lakes Community College — is providing online home health aide training to help fill the need for workers amid COVID-19. The course will allow students to get to work in four weeks in COVID-19 recovery units across NYC and Long Island, according to FingerLakes1.com

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— While CMS’s latest round of regulatory flexibilities don’t do much for home health providers, they could be good news for nursing homes. CMS has opened Medicare telehealth waivers to include physical, occupational and speech therapists. The announcement “brings PTs, OTs, and SLPs on par with the other providers that have embraced the government’s telehealth flexibilities to potentially treat residents in place at skilled nursing facilities and other institutional care sites — a key weapon in the fight to maintain acute-care capacity and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in nursing facilities,” Skilled Nursing News wrote

— The US intelligence community has put to rest a theory that COVID-19 was manmade, which President Trump has suggested before. An intel statement said federal agencies agree “with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”

— About a dozen states started the reopening process Friday, coming about six weeks after the coronavirus prompted widespread closures and stay-at-home orders. Nearly half of the states in the country are set to reopen soon. Meanwhile, the other half will continue with restrictions and shut down orders, prompting protests in states like Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan and more.

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What you need to know from Thursday (April 30)

— CMS and the White House announced another round of “sweeping” regulatory flexibilities on Thursday, though most of the changes did not directly affect home health providers.

— Also on Thursday, federal policymakers announced the formation of a new nursing home oversight commission.

— Finding the crucial data to track effective treatments to the COVID-19 virus has been harder than it should be. That’d because software built by rival technology firms has made it difficult to pool a large amount of information from thousands of hospitals together, Kaiser Health News reported.

— Nearly 4 million more unemployment claims were made last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That means over 30 million claims have been filed over the last six weeks.

— Over 30% of home-based care agencies have experienced revenue reductions in excess of 20%, according to a new National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) survey. Additionally, over 50% of agencies have seen revenue reductions in excess of 15%. Nearly 80% of agencies have experienced a decline in admissions.

— Senior living facilities are more frequently turning to home-based care providers to help fill staffing shortages linked to the coronavirus.

What you need to know from Wednesday (April 29)

— In-home care providers across the country have had to adapt their business models to the coronavirus. They include Prospero Health, which doubled down on its telephonic capabilities. “Over the weekend, we created a whole new business model for doing all of our interventions and all of our outreach with patients telephonically,” Prospero President and COO Michael Scarbrough told the Memphis Business Journal. “Everybody knew what it meant, what was at stake and leaned in to do everything it took to make that pivot.”

Encompass Health Corporation (NYSE: EHC) and Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) both had their Q1 earnings calls on Wednesday, with each outlining the impact the coronavirus has had on its home health operations.

— A second round of the coronavirus is “inevitable,” the nation’s top infectious disease doctor predicted.

— Better Medicare Alliance (BMA), an advocacy organization that supports Medicare Advantage, released a new report: “Spotlight on Innovation: The Response to COVID-19.” The report profiles 18 BMA-aligned organizations, highlighting success stories and lessons learned.

— On one hand, COVID-19 may increase home care opportunities under Medicare Advantage. On the other, it may increase seniors’ rapid disenrollment in MA, according to some experts.

What you need to know from Tuesday (April 28)

— Encompass Health Corp. (NYSE: EHC) released its Q1 2020 financial results on Tuesday, reporting net operating revenues of $272.8 million for its home health and hospice segment — a 7.4% increase from the same quarter a year prior. In a statement, President and CEO Mark Tarr said operating performance for Encompass Health was strong across the board through February, until COVID-19 hit. “Beginning in March, we experienced lower volumes and higher operating expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CEO said. “While we expect these lower volumes to continue in the near term, we view them as temporary and remain confident in the intermediate and long-term growth prospects for our company based on the increasing demands for the services we provide to an aging population.” Encompass Health will hold a conference call on Wednesday morning.

— CMS’s decision to suspend advance payments may prove shortsighted, home health industry insiders told HHCN.

— Reports surfaced Tuesday that the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) will begin prioritizing aging services providers for personal protective equipment (PPE) starting in May. While it appears that prioritization will mostly focus on nursing homes and long-term care settings, it’s a positive sign for home-based care providers as well. “It is disgraceful that PPE and testing were not prioritized for older adults in the early days of this pandemic, even though it was widely understood from the outset that older adults and caregivers were at the greatest risk,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, said in a statement. “Despite that failure, care workers have shown up every day at risk to their own lives.”

— The United States has confirmed more than 1 million cases of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Since March, the U.S. has seen more confirmed cases than any other country in the world.

A Harvard Business Review article published Tuesday highlighted the role big tech can play in mitigating future pandemics — especially technology that strengthens in-home care. “[We] need more ways to deliver in-home care for those isolated or at risk,” the article states. “During COVID-19, the elderly were disproportionately affected by the overwhelming of our health system. We did not have the tools needed to triage the needs of these individuals — whether that means getting them to a hospital sooner or meeting them where they are with urgent care capabilities.”

— Last week, Michigan’s governor announced that some in-home care workers would be getting a $2-per-hour pay raise through June. The announcement has triggered more confusion than celebration.

What you need to know from Monday (April 27)

— The majority of adults age 70 or older — 55% — have experienced disruptions in medical care as a result of the coronavirus and the social distancing that comes with it, new research suggests.

— Tufts Medical Center has partnered with hospital-at-home company Medically Home to transition patients from its institutional settings back into their homes, where they’ll continue to receive hospital-level care. Tufts is the latest to embrace the hospital-at-home model, which is gaining steam as COVID-19 continues to sweep the globe.

— Despite the fact that some states are rolling back their stay-at-home orders and reopening business, social distancing will probably remain in place through the summer, according to the White House’s coronavirus task force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx. Reopening will likely be a slow process, Birx said during an interview with NBC News, but finding a “breakthrough” in antigen testing could help speed up the process.

— President Donald Trump continues to dismiss personal protective equipment shortages as “fake news,” saying his administration has “loaded up” hospitals. However, health care providers are telling a different story of persistent shortages.

— Nursing homes continue to struggle with the COVID-19 virus, as their residents are among the populations most vulnerable. Additionally, staff are underpaid and the reimbursement system is broken, experts say.

COVID-19 interrupts seniors’ medical care

About 55% of seniors age 70 and older saw their medical care interrupted in the first month of social distancing for the coronavirus, according to a nationwide survey by NORC at the University of Chicago.

The survey was co-designed and funded by The John A. Hartford Foundation and The SCAN Foundation. It included responses from 1,039 seniors aged 70 and older, who completed the survey between April 10 and April 15.

“The first month of social distancing in America certainly saved lives, and yet it also created a situation where many older adults are not getting the care they need to manage serious health conditions,” Bruce Chernof, president and CEO of The SCAN Foundation, said in a press release announcing the news. “As our nation grapples with when and how to reopen, the healthcare system will reckon with unaddressed medical needs and learn how to maximize new protocols to care for older adults with complex needs in flexible, person-centered ways.”

Survey respondents indicated that both non-essential and essential medical treatment were delayed.

About 39% said they canceled or delayed non-essential treatment, while another 32% said they put off primary or preventative care. Meanwhile, one in six canceled or delayed essential medical treatment.

On a brighter note, a good number of seniors — 21% — say they’ve had telehealth appointments since social distancing began, and very few — 4% — noted having a “much worse” experience than in-person appointments.

For daily updates from the week of April 20, click here.

For daily updates from the week of April 13, click here.

For daily updates from the week of April 6, click here.

For daily updates from the week of March 30, click here.

For daily updates from the week of March 23, click here.

For daily updates from the week of March 16, click here.

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