Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Proposed Changes to the Provision of Long Term Care

Kaiser Health News recently provided an overview of the changes proposed by the Biden Administration to long term care.  Biden Seeks $400 Billion to Buttress Long-Term Care. A Look at What’s at Stake provides this overview:

The services in question. Home and community-based services help people who need significant assistance live at home as opposed to nursing homes or group homes.

  *  *  *  

The need. At some point, 70% of older adults will require help with dressing, hygiene, moving around, managing finances, taking medications, cooking, housekeeping and other daily needs, usually for two to four years. 

*  *  *

Medicare limitations. Many people assume that Medicare — the nation’s health program for 61 million older adults and people with severe disabilities — will pay for long-term care, including home-based services. But Medicare coverage is extremely limited.

  *  *  *  

Medicaid options. Medicaid — the federal-state health program for 72 million children and adults in low-income households — can be an alternative, but financial eligibility standards are strict and only people with meager incomes and assets qualify.

  *  *  *  

The article additionally reviews the impact on family caregivers and the workforce, questions about the Administration's proposal and some suggestions for reform.  Stay tuned; this isn't going to be a quick or easy journey.

April 20, 2021 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

State of SNFs Prior to Pandemic

WGBH, a PBS station, ran this story a bit ago.   New Studies Show Dire State Of Nursing Homes Even Before The Pandemic opens with a focus on staff turnovers and highlights recent studies:

The pandemic has shined a harsh spotlight on nursing homes. Despite less than 1% of the population living in nursing homes and longterm care facilities, they account for about a third of all COVID-19 deaths. Now, two new national studies show that, even before the pandemic, the nursing home industry was in a dire situation. The studies paint a picture of places where it is unappealing to work and risky to stay.

[T]he first national study of staff turnover in nursing homes before the pandemic, published this month in Health Affairs. The study found an extraordinarily high rate of staff turnover, with an average of over 100%.

“That means the average nursing home in the U.S. has their entire nursing home staff change over the course of the calendar year,” [said one study author]. “And we found that some nursing homes had turnover as high as 300%, suggesting the staff is turning over every four months.”

That doesn't necessarily mean that all employees leave during a year. A facility with 10 staff members could have 100% turnover if everyone leaves and is replaced by a new person or if one job is filled 10 different times because the new hires keep leaving.

The article also discusses private equity involvement in the long term care industry.

April 13, 2021 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Help for Unpaid Caregivers?

Will the administration provide support for family caregivers?  This was the subject of an opinion published in the New York Times. 50 Million Americans Are Unpaid Caregivers. We Need Help. focuses on the author's personal experiences as a family caregiver. Consider this: "It’s often noted that the United States is alone among rich nations in not providing maternity leave; support for child care is likewise abysmal. Similarly — but often more invisibly — we leave millions of caregivers with little or no support in managing the financial, logistical and emotional difficulties of helping ailing parents, spouses and children."  Referencing the pledge made during the campaign, the author notices the benefits:

The changes would help not just caregivers like me; what’s good for caregivers also benefits those who need assistance. Expanding home care can keep frail elderly people out of nursing homes, the drawbacks of which have been painfully exposed by the pandemic. Easing financial strains and burnout for caregivers can mean better, more compassionate treatment, which in turn can improve quality of life and outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens.

March 3, 2021 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other | Permalink

Monday, January 25, 2021

SNFS and Vaccination for COVID

Since it's been a few weeks since the vaccine rollout, and with residents of SNFs in the top priority for vaccination, how successful has it been? I have posted a few articles previously, and I wanted to pass on a few more.

In my geographic area, The Tampa Bay Times reported, Tampa Bay nursing homes have all offered coronavirus vaccines to residents and staff. Note here in the headline "offered."  Some folks may refuse to get the vaccine, whether residents or staff. Which brings me to two more articles.

Inside a Nursing Home as Vaccine Arrives: ‘I Hope Everybody Takes It’ is an interesting look at a day inside a SNF when folks from Walgreens were onsite to vaccinate folks.

The approval of Pfizer’s novel coronavirus vaccine in December brought hope to the residents and staff members at Staten Island’s Clove Lakes Health Care and Rehabilitation Center. The facility was hit hard: It lost more than 40 residents to the virus last year and struggled financially as the number of new residents plummeted, along with their income.

The employees and residents had counted on the vaccine to help them return to some semblance of their old routine — including family visits — and were determined not to waste any time. Weeks before a single person got the vaccine staff had been preparing for the rollout, contacting residents and families by mail, email, robocalls and social service workers to reassure everyone about its safety and effectiveness.

And although the Tampa Bay Times reported the successes of vaccine availability in our area, that is not the case elsewhere.  The New York Times also reported a few days ago, Frustrations Boil at Pace of Vaccinations at Long-Term Care Facilities

CVS and Walgreens, which are largely responsible for vaccinating residents and workers in long-term care facilities, are on track to make at least initial vaccination visits to nearly all nursing homes they are working with by Jan. 25. The two pharmacy chains have already given out more than 1.7 million vaccine doses at long-term care facilities.

But the progress is uneven across the country and not nearly as comprehensive for different types of long-term care. For example, thousands of assisted living facilities — for older people who need less care than those in nursing homes — do not yet even have an appointment for their first visit from the pharmacy teams, in large part because states have given such facilities lower priority in their vaccine-distribution plans.

The length of time it is taking is causing some states to come up with alternate plans. The article stresses the critical nature of the situation. 

[T]he rapidly spreading virus continues to decimate nursing homes and similar facilities. The virus’s surge since November has killed about 30,000 long-term care staff and residents, raising the total of virus-related deaths in these facilities to at least 136,000, according to a New York Times tracker. Since the pandemic began, long-term care facilities have accounted for just 5 percent of coronavirus cases but 36 percent of virus-related deaths.

Also noted in the Times article, there are "other things are slowing the campaign. A significant number of long-term care workers have balked at receiving the vaccine. The virus’s spread is also delaying the process. People should not be vaccinated while they still have Covid-19 symptoms or are isolating, according to the C.D.C."

 

January 25, 2021 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 18, 2021

COVID, Vaccination Confusion & More

There are so many stories being published about COVID and the impact on elders, I'm just going to include a few in this post.

I had mentioned a few weeks back that some states were circumventing the CDC recommendation on the second priority tier for vaccination. Florida is among those states, choosing to vaccinate those 65 and older. In case you weren't aware, Florida has a lot of folks 65 and older. And not enough vaccine doses for everyone. When the second batch of vaccines arrived, stories appeared regarding confusion and inefficiencies regarding signing up to receive the vaccine. (I and several of my friends can tell you first-hand accounts of this). As the New York Times described it,  ‘It Became Sort of Lawless’: Florida Vaccine Rollout Turns Into a Free-for-All.  It's not just Florida having this problem, as noted in  Online Sign-Ups Complicate COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout For Older People.

We need to remember that not everyone has access to a computer or reliable internet-so are we leaving out an entire group in that 65 and over category eligible for the vaccine?  With states left to administer the programs,  Vaccination Disarray Leaves Seniors Confused About When They Can Get a Shot.

It seems to me that COVID news has been pushed off the news as the #1 story, replaced by the insurgency (rightfully so) but we shouldn't lose focus on the increasing spread of the pandemic. So we know things are going to get worse, before they get better---we haven't seen the surge from the Christmas holidays, but it's coming and very soon.  Just look at what happened at Thanksgiving:  COVID Kills Over 12,000 Nursing Home Residents in Weeks Surrounding Thanksgiving.

Finally, if you don't read any of these articles, read this one. COVID-19 And Congress Have Left The Senior Citizen Safety Net In Tatters explains the impact the pandemic and the economy is having on senior centers.

Whew.

January 18, 2021 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Medicare Drug Out of Pocket Costs

Kaiser Health News ran an article (before Congress recessed), Seniors Face Crushing Drug Costs as Congress Stalls on Capping Medicare Out-Of-Pockets.

Many Americans with cancer or other serious medical conditions face ...  prescription drug ordeals. It’s often worse, however, for Medicare patients. Unlike private health insurance, Part D drug plans have no cap on patients’ 5% coinsurance costs once they hit $6,550 in drug spending this year (rising from $6,350 in 2020), except for very low-income beneficiaries.

President-elect Joe Biden favors a cap, and Democrats and Republicans in Congress have proposed annual limits ranging from $2,000 to $3,100. But there’s disagreement about how to pay for that cost cap. Drug companies and insurers, which support the concept, want someone else to bear the financial burden.

That forces patients to rely on the financial assistance programs. These arrangements, however, do nothing to reduce prices. In fact, they help drive up America’s uniquely high drug spending by encouraging doctors and patients to use the priciest medications when cheaper alternatives may be available.

The article examines the cost of specialty drugs and reviews the results of a 2019 Kaiser survey on the issue.  The high cost of such drugs may impede a person's ability to retire, the article noted. The article reviews the situation of some folks who have had to make treatment decisions based on costs and some choose to not have a prescription filled due to the costs. 

There is help from some non-profits, but beneficiaries may not know about them. "The high drug prices and coverage gaps have forced many patients to rely on complicated financial assistance programs offered by drug companies and foundations. Under federal rules, the foundations can help Medicare patients as long as they pay for drugs made by all manufacturers, not just by the company funding the foundation."

Stay tuned to see if Congress takes up the issue when it reconvenes. 

January 13, 2021 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Will COVID Change the Future of Long Term Care?

The Wall Street Journal published this piece back in December. Covid Spurs Families to Shun Nursing Homes, a Shift That Appears Long Lasting explains the trend

The pandemic is reshaping the way Americans care for their elderly, prompting family decisions to avoid nursing homes and keep loved ones in their own homes for rehabilitation and other care.

. . .

The drop-off has persisted since spring, including at times when the virus’s spread was subdued. In the summer, when many hospitals were performing near-normal levels of the kinds of procedures that often result in nursing-home stays, referrals to nursing homes remained down.

Occupancy in U.S. nursing homes is down by 15%, or more than 195,000 residents, since the end of 2019, driven both by deaths and by the fall in admissions, a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data shows.

The decline in nursing-home patients covered by Medicare, which provides payments vital to the homes’ business model, is even steeper. That has left the industry in precarious financial shape. The biggest U.S. nursing-home company said in August it might not have enough money to pay its obligations.

I always ask my students two questions when we cover the topic of nursing homes: 1.  do they believe nursing homes are important to our society for the provision of long term care? (they answer yes). 2.  How many of them want to  reside in a SNF at some point in their lives? (they answer no). 

Surveys have long shown many patients don’t want to go to nursing homes. The pandemic has made them even less popular, according to a September survey of adults 40 and older by AARP. Just 7% said they would prefer a nursing home for family members needing long-term care, and 6% said they would choose one for themselves. Nearly three in 10 respondents said the pandemic had made them less likely to choose institutional care.

The article notes that the SNF industry has already begun to pivot, and home health care agencies are expanding their services.  Medicare's changes to allow for more services in homes also help as some of the Advantage plans have already moved in that direction. The article provides some interesting anecdotes about some of the services available. It's past time for us to rethink how we provide long term care in this country.  Long past time....

A subscription is needed to access the full article.

Thanks to Professor Dick Kaplan for sending me this article.

January 5, 2021 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 4, 2021

Starting 2021 with Looking at Operation of SNFs

Happy 2021. Several articles have been published examining the pandemic's longer-term impact on SNFs. I wanted to point out two.  First, consider the Washington Post article about how SNFs are structured, Profit and pain: How California’s largest nursing home chain amassed millions as scrutiny mounted.

Instead of relying upon outside vendors, Brius pursued a business practice long used by a majority of for-profit nursing homes nationwide: paying related companies for goods, services and rent.

More than 70 percent of the country’s nursing home providers use operating funds to pay themselves through so-called related parties — companies they or their family members partially or wholly own. In 2018, Brius nursing homes paid related parties $13 million for supplies, $10 million for administrative services and financial consulting, and $16 million for workers’ compensation insurance, state records show. The homes also sent a total of $64 million in rent to dozens of related land companies.

The practice is legal and widely supported by the industry, which argues that related parties help control costs and limit financial liability. Watchdog groups counter that nursing home owners can reap excessive profits from public funds by overpaying their own companies. Related parties generally do not have to disclose profits, leaving regulators with little way to assess the financial gains of owners.

Covid has changed the "business as usual" model, it would seem, as the article notes that "scrutiny has mounted in recent months as the federal government delivered about $54 million to Brius homes in coronavirus relief aid, meant as a lifeline for providers struggling to protect residents amid an unprecedented health crisis that has killed more than 92,000 nursing home residents nationwide."  The Washington Post did an in-depth look at this SNF chain. The article details what the reporters discovered regarding finances and taxes. There are California groups that have called for the California legislature to revise the oversight of SNFs.  The article indicates that efforts may also be made at a federal level. This detailed article is well worth reading and I plan to assign it to my students, so they can have a better understanding of the structure of SNFs.

Next consider this opinion from the New York Times,, This Is Why Nursing Homes Failed So Badly.

The first coronavirus outbreak in the United States occurred in a nursing home near Seattle, in late February. Since then, the country has endlessly revised its hot spot map. Yet the situation in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities has only gotten worse: More than 120,000 workers and residents have died, and residents are now dying at three times the rate they did in July.

Long-term care continues to be understaffed, poorly regulated and vulnerable to predation by for-profit conglomerates and private-equity firms. The nursing aides who provide the bulk of bedside assistance still earn poverty wages, and lockdown policies have forced patients into dangerous solitude.

Fortunately... and maybe hopefully...., with the COVID vaccine and priority given to those who work and reside in SNFs, this won't be a story that continues in the same vein. But the author of this piece aren't telling us we will return to the prior way of things. "When the pandemic is finally history, we’ll need to deal with all of this: the staffing shortages, low pay and lack of accountability — the many ways we have failed residents, family members and staffers. The awful truth is that long-term care was designed to fail years before Covid-19."  Why is this? Various stressors combined push the need for change in how long term care is provided.  "Over the past few decades, the popularity of “aging in place,” combined with new medical technologies and longer life spans, has changed the nature of care for seniors and people with disabilities. Residents of the nation’s 15,400 C.M.S.-certified nursing homes are much older, sicker and poorer than they used to be."  The article mentions the health of the residents, low pay for employees, employees working jobs at different facilities as contributing to the crisis.

The author makes a number of suggestions for changing long-term care in the U.S.  and concludes with a call for action from the incoming administration

Most important, we must transform the way we think about long-term care — treating it not as human warehousing or the duty of underpaid women, but as an integral part of our medical system.

All of these changes are possible — and modest, really, given the magnitude of the emergency. By 2050, 19 million people will be 85 or older, and many will require help to live with comfort and a modicum of dignity. What we really need, for all Americans, is single-payer health insurance that covers quality long-term care. But short of that, Mr. Biden and Kamala Harris have a chance to make amends for the deadly failures of the current administration.

January 4, 2021 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 4, 2020

The COVID Crisis in One Florida LTC Facility

The Tampa Bay Times ran a profile of  a local long term care facility that experienced a significant COVID outbreak last spring.  Death at Freedom Square  is an in-depth story about the people who live and work at Freedom Square and the spread of COVID within that facility. The article provides detailed reporting (In fact the TBT refers to this story as a "project").  The article is written in a way that tells the story of the people impacted, which makes it a compelling--- and sad---- read.    

Nine months into the pandemic, the virus has killed more than 19,000 Floridians. About 40 percent of the deaths have been among senior care residents. In Pinellas County alone, more than 2 out of 3 coronavirus deaths are connected to nursing homes and assisted living centers.

Freedom Square, a 15-acre retirement complex built around a town square and a gazebo, was the early epicenter in Tampa Bay.

Of course, we all know that this is not the only facility that experienced a COVID outbreak, whether inside Florida or in other states. The human interest angle makes this a compelling read, but it also includes important information about the Florida responses and about the corporate structure for this facility.

The article is as gripping as it is saddening; the reporters use of the human interest angle helps remind us that we aren't talking about numbers---we are talking about people.

Read it!

December 4, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Business Side of SNFs

Maryland elder law attorney Morris Klein sent me a link to an article recently published in the Washington PostHow government incentives shaped the nursing home business — and left it vulnerable to a pandemic explains

Federal money, through the Medicare and Medicaid systems, has long shaped the nursing home business — and in ways that left it completely vulnerable when the viral pandemic arrived in March.

For years, extra money has gone to pay for extra services, encouraging some nursing home owners to game the system and tempting unscrupulous operators to file false claims for reimbursement. In the recent past, the gold standard was physical and occupational therapy; now it’s respiratory care.

But stringent infection control, which might have kept the coronavirus at bay, has never been a revenue producer, even now during the pandemic. Similarly, there is no monetary incentive to hire more registered nurses, although studies suggest they have been crucial in minimizing covid-19 casualties in nursing homes.

According to the article, the fee for service model is centered on additional care that will bring in additional funds to the provider, "and one consequence is that employees who handle general care of residents — nursing assistants, primarily — rather than the specialty services are a low priority for operators. They are underpaid and in chronically short supply at nursing homes across the country."

The article includes specific resident stories during the time of COVID and compares the financials for SNFs from resident stays covered by Medicare and Medicaid.  When COVID rampaged, folks put off surgeries, which affected the bottom line of many SNFs, per the article.

The temptation of the funding system leads some facilities to cross the line. "Working in a system that requires nursing homes to decide what extra services a resident needs, then provide those services, then bill the government, tempts some operators to game the rules and a few to commit outright fraud. Patients can be pushed into higher-paying categories of need. Services can be billed that were never rendered."

The lengthy article gives a really good picture of the funding system, how it works, the oversight and the remedies available to redress wrongdoing. I'm recommending this article to my students.

December 3, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, November 27, 2020

Health & Income Security Gaps For Older Americans of Color

This is not a happy article for the day after Thanksgiving-but it is a darn important topic.  The Conversation published this article, Nearly two-thirds of older Black Americans can’t afford to live alone without help – and it’s even tougher for Latinos explains that

Older Americans who want to live independently face serious economic challenges. Half who live alone don’t have enough income to afford even a bare-bones budget in their home communities, and nearly 1 in 4 couples face the same problem.

Those numbers add up to at least 11 million older adults who are struggling to make ends meet, a new analysis shows.

The numbers are worse for older people of color. Dramatically higher percentages of Black, Latino and Asian older adults live on incomes that don’t meet their cost of living, even with Social Security. That can mean skipping needed health care, not having enough food, living in unhealthy conditions or having to move in with family.

These disparities often reflect lifelong disadvantages that add up as people of color encounter structural racism and discrimination that shape their ability to buy property and save for the future.

The authors used some data available about elders "to measure the true cost of living for older adults. It tracks expenses for housing, health care, transportation, food and other basics, county by county. We paired the index with state-level income data to determine the percentage of people who don’t have enough income to cover their cost of living." The results show that "disadvantages people of color face can extend through their lifetimes and can pass on to future generations."  Not only is income security an issue, so is health security "[s]ecuring and protecting health into later life is also more challenging for many people of color."

The results also showed state by state variations. The article concludes with various recommendations:

Today’s older adults who are struggling financially can’t go back, but there are several ways to help them now:

  • Policies can promote affordable housing and affordable health care, which represent the biggest components of older Americans’ budgets.

  • Governments can promote mechanisms that allow people to keep working into later life, which allows people to continue generating income and building wealth, and also delays drawing down other income sources such as pensions or Social Security benefits.

  • Social Security and Medicare — the foundations of a secure retirement for millions of Americans — are essential for these groups. Older people of color rely more heavily than their white counterparts on Social Security and are at heightened risk when these programs are threatened.

  • Making sure government assistance programs such as SNAP benefits for food and housing subsidies are accessible to the people who need them can also help. Ensuring access includes providing information in multiple languages and hiring outreach workers who understand the population’s needs.

Thanks to Professor Naomi Cahn for sending me the link to the article.

November 27, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Medicare's Care Compare

Remember those cool tools on Medicare.gov that allowed you to compare nursing homes, doctors, hospitals and more?  They are being retired as of the end of the year, and replaced with Medicare's Care Compare. All the info about the various services are there-but located on one page. It's easier since you can go to any of the 8 compare services from one landing page, rather than hunting for each one from the Medicare.gov website. Here's what CMS has to say about this new website:

We’ve combined our 8 original provider compare sites, giving you one place to start finding any type of care you need. New features include updated maps, new filters that help you identify the providers right for you, and a clean, consistent design that makes it easier to compare providers and find the information that’s most important to you.

. . .

What can this tool do for me?

For people with Medicare or their caregivers who want to choose a Medicare provider (like physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, and others), this tool provides a single source search and compare experience, that lets you:

  • Find information about providers and facilities based on your individual needs
  • Get helpful resources to choose your health care providers
  • Make more informed decisions about where you get your health care

The information here should be used with other information you gather about providers and facilities in your area. In addition to reviewing the information here, you should talk to your doctor, social worker, or other health care providers when choosing a provider.

. . .

Although the tool was created for people with Medicare in mind, many of the measures shown here apply to people who may not have Medicare.

 

November 25, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Recent AP Report on Nursing Homes-It's Not Just About COVID

Last week I tweeted a link to an article from the AP about poor care in SNFs that wasn't due to COVID, Not just COVID: Nursing home neglect deaths surge in shadows. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care wrote a response;  and their full statement is available here.

Consumer Voice has heard from hundreds of families whose loved ones have been harmed by neglect. Family members report that many residents have experienced significant physical decline, such as losing their ability to move, or sit up or stand up without assistance. Others no longer talk because almost no one has spoken to them since March. There are residents who have not been bathed nor had their teeth brushed for months, and residents who have been confined to their rooms -while missing their eyeglasses and hearing aids. One resident sat in her room with a fractured hip for a month – the result of a fall and lack of medical attention, despite complaints of pain for weeks. Weight loss, bed sores, infections, and cognitive decline are ravaging nursing home residents. Much of this suffering could have been prevented.

The statement called on Congress for changes, including '"[ensuring] adequate numbers of well-trained and well-compensated staff. ... [and] [opposition of] any kind of immunity from civil liability for nursing homes" They also called on CMS to "[i]ncrease oversight of resident care ... [and] [r]equire facilities to permit family to conduct compassionate care visits."

November 24, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 5, 2020

SNF Infection Control Oversight-Does It Work?

I think we can all recite the COVID #s from the spring vis a vis SNFs.  Is the infection control process enough? Is more needed? The Washington Post recently published this story, As pandemic raged and thousands died, government regulators cleared most nursing homes of infection-control violations.

At the outset of a looming pandemic, just weeks after the first known coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil, the woman responsible for helping to protect 1.3 million residents in America’s nursing homes laid out an urgent strategy to slow the spread of infection.

In the suburbs of Seattle, federal inspectors had found the Life Care Center of Kirkland failed to properly care for ailing patients or alert authorities to a growing number of respiratory infections. At least 146 other nursing homes across the country had confirmed coronavirus cases in late March when Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, vowed to help “keep what happened in Kirkland from happening again.”

And yet, we know what happened.  The plan was for complete "a series of newly strengthened inspections to ensure 15,400 Medicare-certified nursing homes were heeding long-standing regulations meant to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. It was another key component of a national effort, launched in early March, to shore up safety protocols for the country’s most fragile residents during an unprecedented health emergency."  With that in mind, the Washington Post conducted an investigation and found that "during the first six months of the crisis [the inspectors] cleared nearly 8 in 10 nursing homes of any infection-control violations ...." The article notes that these facilities included those that had COVID outbreaks before the inspections and others that had outbreaks after inspections concluded there were no violations.  We can all realize that with COVID, not every transmission can be prevented, but the article notes that "the number of homes flagged for infection-control violations remained about the same as last year."

The article gives examples of violations and fines discusses actions taken by CMS, the lack of consistency, the imposition of small fines, and gaps in communication,  postponement of collecting fines and more.  This is a lengthy detailed article that is important to read to order to have some understanding of how COVID was able to rampage through SNFS. 

The Executive Director of the Long Term Care Coalition observed "“Nursing home residents were never more vulnerable in our lifetime, if ever... I don’t like to overuse the expression, but we literally abandoned them when the need for monitoring was the highest, when the need for quality assurance was the highest. They needed that oversight more than ever.”

And let's remember, the numbers of cases are spiking again. Have we learned any lessons from the spring?

November 5, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 29, 2020

More on Nursing Homes & Federal $

Earlier this week I posted about the nursing homes seeking additional $ from the federal government because of the number of COVID 19 cases. I thought this article in TIME magazine, COVID-19 Is Still Devastating Nursing Homes. The Trump Administration Isn't Doing Much to Stop It, provided a nice follow up.

Ar least 75,000 Americans in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have already died from COVID-19—and the devastation is far from over. After a decrease earlier this summer, the death toll is now rising once again, and as the country heads into the fall and then flu season, millions of Americans who require institutional long-term care remain at the greatest risk.

But, so far, the Trump Administration has talked a big talk—and mostly failed to deliver.

There have been issues with the amount and quantity of the PPEs sent to facilities, CMS hasn't ensured that SNFS will have s sufficient supply of COVID test kits and there was nothing specific for SNFs in the latest relief package. The article discusses the lack of a coordinated federal response and what assistance is provided comes with new requirements. For example,  as pertains to the new testing requirements:

The Administration’s new testing schedule assigns counties to “green,” “yellow” or “red” categories based on their rate of positive COVID-19 tests, and requires that nursing homes test their staff as often as twice weekly depending on the severity of their location. They must also test all residents during any outbreak or whenever a new COVID-19 case is identified. Facilities can face steep fines if they don’t comply and must keep up with testing to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, which are the industry’s main source of income.

So why is this problematic? The article offers this insight

Those requirements are fine in theory, industry experts say, but they don’t reflect the reality on the ground. If nursing homes test at the required frequency, the supply of free tests provided by HHS will run out rapidly. Long-term care facilities, which are often financially stretched, will be required to purchase more tests on their own.

There is also concern about the sustainability of the current model of nursing home care and notes the problem with adequate staffing.

The staffing issue is even thornier. Nursing homes typically operate on thin margins, and long-term care workers—mostly poor women of color—are underpaid and overworked in the best of times. During the pandemic, staffers have been falling ill themselves, staying home to care for family members or children who are attending school remotely, and leaving the field for less dangerous jobs. While Congressional Democrats pushed for hazard pay for frontline workers this spring and included it in their relief bill that passed the House in May, no federal plan has been approved. Without specific money dedicated to worker salaries, long-term care facilities say they can’t hire the staff they need.

 

October 29, 2020 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Updates on SNFs and COVID

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Coronavirus Commission Releases Report on SNFs

Hot off the press.  CMS has released the report of the Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in  Nursing Homes.  The purpose and objectives of the Commission:

Convene a commission of experts to address safety and quality in nursing homes in relation to the public health emergency. The main purpose of the independent Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes (Commission) was to solicit lessons learned from the early days of the pandemic and recommendations for future actions to improve infection prevention and control measures, safety procedures, and the quality of life of residents within nursing homes. 

The 25 member commission met 9 times and made the following:

27 recommendations and accompanying  action steps organized into 10 themes. These themes intersect with the Commission’s four objectives, and reflect responses to:
• Ongoing supply and affordability dilemmas related to testing, screening, and personal
protective equipment (PPE)
• Tension between rigorous infection control measures and quality of life issues that exist
in cohorting and visitation policies
• A call for transparent and accessible communications with residents, their representatives
and loved ones, and the public
• Urgent need to train, support, protect, and respect direct-care providers  Outdated infrastructure of many nursing-home facilities
• Opportunities to create and organize guidance to owners and administrators that is more
actionable and to obtain data from nursing homes that is more meaningful for action and
research
• Insufficient funding for quality nursing home operations, workforce performance, and
resident safety.

The commission did not unanimously adopt the report. The 186 page report is available here. Stay tuned.

September 16, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

COVID and SNFs: Deaths Preventable?

The New York Times asked the hard question, whether COVID deaths in SNFs were preventable, in a recently published opinion from the editorial board. How Many of These 68,000 Deaths Could Have Been Avoided?

Around 40 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the United States have been among the staff and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — totaling some 68,000 people.

Those deaths were not inevitable. The novel coronavirus is adept at spreading in congregant living facilities, and older people face an increased risk of contracting and dying from it. But most of the nation’s nursing homes had months of warning about the coming threat: One of the first coronavirus outbreaks in the country was in a nursing home near Seattle, making it clear that such facilities ought to prepare.

The opinion discusses steps SNFs could have taken to reduce the chances of spread, the financial model for SNFs in the US. The opinion also discusses the reduction of oversight and notes

Every effort should be made to ensure that the bulk of the money that the government puts into this industry goes to patient care, not providers’ pockets. An investigation started by the House of Representatives into the nation’s largest for-profit homes is a meaningful step in this direction. The Justice Department should follow suit.

The opinion discusses the way SNFs get supplies for their PPEs, etc. as well as staffing shortages. The editors conclude with 3 recommendations

In the near term, lawmakers should provide for hazard pay for nursing home workers in the next relief package and should require all nursing homes to enact non-punitive sick-leave policies so that workers don’t infect colleagues or residents.

In the longer term, federal officials need to consider revising Medicaid reimbursement rates for long-term care so they support higher than minimum-wage salaries, and shifting reimbursement policies so at least some long-term care can be reimbursed with Medicare dollars.

Lawmakers and nursing home operators also would do well to consider a national initiative, perhaps involving student volunteers and internship programs, to recruit future workers to nursing home care. That work, which can be deeply rewarding, will remain urgently needed long after this crisis passes.

September 16, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dual Eligibles and COVID Coverage

Mark your calendars now for a free webinar on How Health Plans Serving Dual Eligibles Can Center Equity During COVID-19.  The webinar is set for October 6, 2020 from 2-3:30 p.m.  Here's a description of  the webinar.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront longstanding racial disparities in our healthcare system, and data show that older adults – especially older adults of color and those in residential congregate settings – are disproportionately impacted by the virus. Aging advocates play a key role in holding health plans and government agencies accountable to meeting the needs of those most at risk during this time. In this webinar, How Health Plans Serving Dual Eligibles Can Center Equity During COVID-19 , we will provide an overview of dual eligibles and the types of health plans that serve them. We will also present specific programmatic recommendations that advocates can push health plans with dual eligible members in their community to adopt. These recommendations are measures that plans can take to center equity in their ongoing response to COVID-19 and ensure they are meeting the needs of older adults of color during this challenging time.

To register, click here.

September 14, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Elder Abuse, SNFs & COVID. An Article in Harper's Magazine

The September issue of Harper's Magazine has a compelling article, Elder Abuse, Nursing Homes, COVID and the Bottom Line.  Just a warning-parts of this article are heart-rending.

Inevitably ... the virus has found its most ideal conditions in the warehouses storing America’s elderly population. No one knows the current death toll. As of early July, CMS put the number at 33,509, but the count covered only federally regulated nursing homes, not assisted-living communities. The homes, moreover, were not required to report deaths that occurred before May 8, although the agency said it was confident that “the vast majority” did so. One in five nursing homes didn’t bother to report their numbers at all. A New York Times study in late June put the number of deaths in U.S. nursing homes at a staggering 55,000, but even this figure did not necessarily include all of those who became infected in a home but died in a hospital, as was the case for Sharon Mitchell. In some states, the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths were in homes: 64 percent in Massachusetts, 68 percent in Pennsylvania, 77 percent in Minnesota. In New Jersey, one in every ten people housed in nursing homes or assisted-living centers died. This was a helpless population, helpless because so often confined in a state of neglect and squalor. But despite or perhaps because of their conditions, they were worth a lot of money. In effect, they were being harvested for profit.

The article looks at the financial model of long term care facilities in the U.S. It offers a  comprehensive history of the development of LTC facilities in the U.S., culminating with a discussion of the ownership of LTC facilities by private equity firms. The article covers the impact of the pandemic and the efforts by the industry to get shield laws to provide them immunity.  

As noted by the article, it's not only U.S. facilities that have faced these deaths from the pandemic.  It notes one company that made changes early in the pandemic, which resulted in less cases, at least in some facilities.  If we are to change the way we provide ltc in this country, in my opinion, this article is important. I'm assigning it to my students. 

August 23, 2020 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink