Coronavirus Daily Update: Home Health Volumes Stabilizing; HHS Secretary Talks Reopening Plans

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 Sunday (May 15-17)

— Home health providers are starting to see patient admissions and volume return to pre-coronavirus levels, industry insiders report.

— HHS head Alex Azar said Sunday that it’s safe to reopen the country because half of the counties reporting “haven’t had a single death,” the Washington Post reported. Azar’s message came despite states calling for continued social distancing and other preventive measures.

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— A key Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) deadline is approaching, as in-home care agencies still try to figure out how the loan program can benefit their operations.

— The federal government has unveiled the nomination process for a recently announced commission on nursing home safety in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. But interested parties have only until May 22 to throw their hats in the ring, according to Skilled Nursing News.

What you need to know from Thursday (May 14):

BrightStar Care announced Thursday it has partnered with Franworth, a franchise-focused growth equity firm, to facilitate and accelerate distribution of PPE to its franchisees across the U.S. BrightStar, one of the biggest in-home care franchises in the country, has built up a $2 million pipeline of PPE.

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— Nearly 3 million more people filed for unemployment insurance last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That puts the overall total at more than 36 million claims since the beginning of March.

— DispatchHealth is partnering with Renown Health to provide in-home care services to Nevada patients who are more at-risk for the COVID-19 virus.

— A Milwaukee-based Amada Senior Care location is placing hand sanitizer kiosks in drugstores in Wisconsin in response to COVID-19. Its efforts are another example of home care agencies deploying their resources in more ways than just in-home services during the public health emergency.

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— The United Nations is warning of a coming plague of mental illness linked to the coronavirus. It’s a problem some in-home care providers have already had to face, with many patients experiencing a worsening of depression, anxiety and other conditions.

What you need to know from Wednesday (May 13):

— Stakeholders and associations in the home-based care space have teamed up with the law firm Littler Mendelson to release a set of recommended operational protocols and an e-learning platform for agencies in light of the coronavirus. Contributors include organizations such as the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), Bayada Home Health Care, BrightStar Care and other industry leaders.

— House Democrats have unveiled a new $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which they’re calling the HEROES Act. It could lift some payroll burdens from the shoulders of home-based care providers. The package would mean $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers and $75 billion in COVID-19 testing and isolation efforts, as well as more money for local governments and every day Americans. The house is expected to vote on the bill — which would be the most expensive relief package in U.S. history — later this week.

— Doctor on Demand is offering Medicare Part B beneficiaries coverage to 33 million seniors nationwide, making it the first large telemedicine company to cater to the population in the program. The move comes as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced sweeping telehealth expansions amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

— The United Health Foundation has donated $750,000 to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and support for front-line health care workers fighting COVID-19 and the vulnerable populations they serve in Pennsylvania. The funding will support the Pennsylvania Homecare Association’s Pennsylvania Foundation for Home Care and Hospice, a nonprofit organization that funds training, education and scholarship opportunities for the home health, hospice and home care workforce. The grant is part of UnitedHealth Group’s (NYSE: UNH) nearly $75 million commitment to fight COVID-19 and support impacted communities.

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, is warning states and cities against reopening too quickly, saying that it could lead to a spike in COVID-19 deaths and economic hardship down the road. “There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” Fauci said Tuesday. So far, about half the country has started to reopen.

— Providers still have a lot of confusion around the emergency relief payments and how they must be used. But it could be years before they get the answers they need to decide whether to accept the money, legal experts predict.

What you need to know from Tuesday (May 12):

— PHI, a national research and consulting organization focused on the direct care workforce, has launched a national direct care workforce resource center in response to the coronavirus. The goal is to help leaders better understand direct care workers and serve as the country’s largest online library for the workforce.

— Another study confirms what home-based care stakeholders have been suggesting for weeks: Now is a better time than ever for providers to bolsters their workforce. 73% of respondents say finding a job right now is harder than in years past, compared to 48% who felt that way just two months ago, according to the new 2020 Job Seeker Nation Report by Jobvite.

— The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) sent a letter to nursing home facility management and staff across the country, thanking them for keeping seniors safe and reminding them of recently implemented coronavirus rules.

— The majority of U.S. voters think nursing homes and assisted living facilities need more money to respond to the COVID-19 emergency, according to a new study conducted by the GS Strategy Group on behalf of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL). More than 63% of the 1,500 registered voters surveyed said such facilities need more money, with another 72% saying lack of government funding has had a negative impact on residents’ quality of care.

— Home health providers aren’t the only health care providers facing financial hardships amid COVID-19. Nationwide, large hospitals saw a 16% drop in revenue and a 32% drop in volume for the third week of March 2020, compared to the same week in 2019. That’s according to a private insurance study released by FAIR Health. Large hospitals in the Northeast had it even harder in the week for which data was examined, incurring a 26% drop in revenue and a 40% drop in patient discharges.

What you need to know from Monday (May 11):

A mysterious condition associated with the COVID-19 outbreak has killed three children in New York and sickened 73 others, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said over the weekend. Some compare the condition to Kawasaki disease. As health care officials investigate, pediatric home health providers may want to start taking further precautionary measures.

— The American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) responded to the White House coronavirus task force’s recommendation for states to test all nursing home residents and staff for new coronavirus cases within the next two weeks. “Our nursing homes and assisted living communities that have undertaken expanded testing have found a high number of residents and staff who are positive, but without symptoms,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of both AHCA and NCAL, said in a statement. “Without access to more testing, long-term care providers are at a severe disadvantage in identifying more of these asymptomatic residents and staff who could be contagious and an endangerment to others.”

— Despite more rigorous and available testing in other countries, the Trump administration on Monday said “America leads the world in testing.” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan pushed back on that claim. “After months of pleading for help with access to testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), nursing homes and other aging services providers were desperately awaiting word from the White House today that their voices had been heard — and that help would be on the way,” she said in a statement. “Instead, we heard that ‘we have prevailed’ on testing, but wishing does not make it so.”

— Speaking of testing, the FDA has issued emergency approval of a new antigen test that is reportedly cheaper, faster and simpler than existing tests.

— Some legal experts are predicting an increase in home health bankruptcies due to the coronavirus, HHCN reported Monday. Since the virus took hold, commercial bankruptcies across all industries have increased.

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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