Coronavirus Daily Update: HHS Releases New Provider Relief Fund Guidance

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.

What you need to know from Friday through Monday (May 22-25)

— The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released additional information on the Provider Relief Fund deadline for submitting revenue information. Fearing a “CMS day of reckoning,” home health providers have continued to raise questions about how Provider Relief Fund money can be deployed.

— Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Congress will likely need to pass more stimulus legislation for the U.S. economy in response to the coronavirus. “I think there is a strong likelihood we will need another bill,” he said Thursday at an event hosted by The Hill.

— The federal government on Friday announced the distribution of almost $4.9 billion in COVID-19 relief funds directly to skilled nursing facilities.

NBC News is the latest outlet to report on how the coronavirus is shining a brighter light on the increased need and demand for home care.

What you need to know from Thursday (May 21)

— The Senate wrapped up Thursday without passing changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) aimed at giving businesses more time to use the money amid the coronavirus outbreak, CNN reported. Many of the home care agencies that have looked into PPP or received money through the loan program still have questions about participation rules.

— Before the COVID-19 virus, U.S. nursing homes were often lax when it came to infection control and other safety measures, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a new report. Specifically, over 80% of all nursing homes had an infection prevention and control deficiency in a recent year. Nearly 50% had a deficiency citation in more than one year.

— Due to the coronavirus, the frequency of outpatient services declined nearly 60% by early April, according to The Commonwealth Fund. Since then, a rebound has occurred, but levels are still one-third lower than they were pre-COVID-19. As in-person visits decreased, telehealth visits increased rapidly, but have now plateaued. That suggests a rebound in those in-person visits in May.

— American Well, a company that offers virtual visits, just raised $194 million to better deal with the increased demand for its services, according to CNBC.

— Nearly 2.5 million more unemployment claims were made this past week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That brings the total up to nearly 40 million claims in the past 9 weeks.

— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an encouraging update for health care workers this week. The agency has found that the coronavirus ‘does not spread easily’ on surfaces or objects.

What you need to know from Wednesday (May 20)

— New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling for more home-based — rather than institutional — care as the city continues to deal with the coronavirus. “Having folks at home is in many ways not only a better quality of life, but it’s a better place to care for someone done right. It’s a better place to make sure that people have the support they need,” he said Wednesday during a press briefing. “And by the way, if people are living at home, there’s much less chance of being in a situation where they’re exposed to a disease that’s spreading.” His comments came as he announced a four-part approach to help nursing homes deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

— Speaking of New York, the U.S. has a new hotbed for coronavirus infections. The Navajo Nation — which is home to more than 173,000 Native Americans throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — now has the most cases per capita. There, 2.3% of the population is infected, compared to 1.8% in New York, the country’s previous COVID-19 hotspot. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said that high penetration rate can be attributed to widespread testing; however, many Navajo residents also live in multigenerational homes located in food deserts and 30% lack running water, all of which make it hard to contain the spread of the virus.

— President Donald Trump said he was “considering” imposing a travel ban on Brazil after coronavirus cases there spiked. Additionally, he’s toying with the idea of permanently halting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) and reconsidering the U.S.’s membership.

— MatrixCare — a post-acute EHR software provider — is honoring health care workers as part of its “Nominate a Hero” program. The initiative was launched last month to recognize post-acute care workers going above and beyond in light of COVID-19. You can learn more and nominate a hero on the company’s website.

— Encompass Health Corporation (NYSE: EHC) has returned $237 million in CARES Act funding. Company leaders said their decision was driven by concerns that they were overpaid and that accepting the money could hurt Encompass Health — and prompt “public shaming” — down the line. Brookdale Senior Living Inc. CEO Cindy Baier said Wednesday that her company is still weighing its options in regard to the funding.

— The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) is asking the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS) to make COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities permanent for hospice providers. During the national emergency, hospices have been allowed to deliver services via video or audio, as long as certain conditions are met. “We don’t want to see telecommunications-based visits replace in-person visits across the board,” Theresa Forster, vice president for hospice policy and programs for NAHC, told Hospice News. “The goal instead is to ensure hospices understand that they have the flexibility to use telecommunications technology for visits where appropriate.”

What you need to know from Tuesday (May 19)

— The Visiting Nurse Association Health Group announced that it has cared for its 600th COVID-19 patient since the beginning of the outbreak. New Jersey-based VNA Health Group is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit providers of home health, hospice and community-based care. It serves communities in both New Jersey and Ohio. “Right now, we’re seeing major stresses on home health agencies,” Dr. Steven Landers, president and CEO of VNA Health Group, previously told HHCN. “We have the need to continue to ramp up training, supplies and equipment to protect our workforce. We’re trying to keep them safe from the coronavirus, in turn so they can keep our patients and clients safe.”

— Mental health ramifications continue to surface in COVID-19’s wake. Survivors of coronavirus are struggling with “post-intensive care syndrome,” which can lead to a combination of “physical, cognitive and mental health impairments following an ICU stay,” according to MedPage Today.

— The Advisory Board, a Washington, D.C.-based businesses consulting firm, has published four tactics for home health agencies looking to reduce exposure risks for their patients.

— It took 33 days for stocks to drop 34% — and three weeks to gain half of it back, according to a new story from Bloomberg. The report highlights the economic rollercoaster created by the coronavirus. The publicly traded post-acute care providers have not been immune to those ups and downs, though many of them — including Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED), LHC Group Inc. (Nasdaq: LHCG) and Encompass Health Corp. (NYSE: EHC) — reported solid Q1 financial results.

— More than 91,000 people in the U.S. have died from coronavirus, while roughly 1.5 million cases have been reported, according to the latest statistics from Johns Hopkins.

What you need to know from Monday (May 18)

— Medicaid providers have been put on the back burner when it comes to funding, according to a report from Kaiser Health News. In March, $100 billion was shelled out to health care providers, and the majority of that money has gone to Medicare beneficiaries, leaving the low-income Medicaid patients — and the providers that serve them — behind. “This needs to be addressed urgently,” Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families in Washington, D.C., told Kaiser Health. “We are concerned about the infrastructure and how quickly it could evaporate.”

— A home health aide in New Jersey ignored a self-quarantine order after being tested for COVID-19. The aide then went to work without PPE, allegedly resulting in at least five additional COVID-19 cases and one death, according to a report from the Daily Voice.

— Three authors from the University of Toronto and Harvard laid out recommendations for fixing issues facing home-based care during and after the COVID-19 crisis in The Conversation. The recommendations included CMS expanding the definition of “home health” to include personal care, expanding the definition of “homebound,” and revitalizing the training and recruitment practices for new home-based care workers during COVID-19.

— An inspection found that nursing homes operated by Life Care Centers of America violated federal standards relating to infection control, according to the Washington Post. The report suggested that staff members were not adequately washing their hands or adhering to social distancing guidelines. “These deficient practices resulted in the high likelihood of spreading coronavirus and harmful pathogens,” the inspector wrote.

— CMS released new guidelines on reopening nursing homes on Monday, with parameters around testing requirements and visitation, reports Skilled Nursing News. CMS also emphasized that nursing facilities will be among the last institutions that can safely reopen as the country takes steps toward moving out of COVID-19 lockdowns.

For daily updates from the week of May 11, click here.

For daily updates from the week of May 4, click here.

For daily updates from the week of April 27, click here.

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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