10 best, worst states for healthcare in 2020

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/rankings-and-ratings/10-best-worst-states-for-healthcare-in-2020-080320.html

2020's Best & Worst States for Health Care

Americans in Massachusetts receive the best healthcare in the country, while those in Georgia receive the worst, according to an analysis by WalletHub, a personal finance website. 

To identify the best and worst states for healthcare, analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 44 different measures of healthcare cost, access and outcomes. The metrics ranged from average hospital expenses per inpatient day to share of patients readmitted to hospitals. Read more about the methodology here.

Here are the 10 states with the highest overall rank across cost, access and outcomes, according to the analysis: 

1. Massachusetts

2. Minnesota

3. Rhode Island

4. District of Columbia

5. North Dakota

6. Vermont

7. Colorado

8. Iowa

9. Hawaii

10. South Dakota

Here are the bottom 10 states on healthcare cost, access and outcomes combined:

1. Georgia

2. Louisiana

3. Alabama

4. North Carolina

5. Mississippi

6. Arkansas

7. Tennessee

8. South Carolina

9. Texas

10. Alaska

Access the full list here

 

 

 

 

Fewer than 10% of primary care practices have stabilized operations amid COVID-19 pandemic

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/practices/fewer-than-10-primary-care-practices-have-stabilized-operations-amid-covid-19-pandemic?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWTJGaE1qTTRaalpsT1dGayIsInQiOiJTNWFxb3VcL3J3ZmE4ZWV0bFwvOGJCYUc0Ukd3TWp4WlM1SzBzT01aeVJIUGlsSWkwNTlVajJxekJqUUsrcWoxZ0IwTUNqVlhTWVJLQmZkSk1XNGtKVEdCOWg3NmRWeFdldFpsSmlONnFvTTFGQ2l1bzQ4S3ZqNWpoaUx2d1pHaSs1In0%3D

Fewer than 10% of primary care practices have stabilized ...

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer than 10% of U.S. primary care practices have been able to stabilize operations.

Nearly 9 in 10 primary care practices continue to face significant difficulties with COVID-19, including obtaining medical supplies, meeting the increasing health needs of their patients, and finding sufficient resources to remain operational, according to a recent survey of close to 600 primary care clinicians in 46 states.

Only 13% of primary care clinicians say they are adapting to a “new normal” in the protracted pandemic, the survey found.

More than four months into the pandemic and at a time when 39 states are experiencing an increase of COVID-19 cases, fewer than 4 in 10 clinicians feel confident and safe with their access to personal protective equipment, according to the survey from the Larry A. Green Center in partnership with the Primary Care Collaborative, which was conducted July 10 to July 13.

Among the primary care clinicians surveyed, 11% report that staff in their practice have quit in the last four weeks over safety concerns.

A primary care provider in Ohio said this: “The ‘I can do 4-6 weeks of this’ transition to ‘this feels like a new/permanent normal’ is crushing and demoralizing. Ways to build morale when everyone is at a computer workstation away from other staff (and patients) feels impossible.”

“In the first few months of the pandemic, the country pulled together to stop the spread of the virus, and it seemed like we were making progress. Primary care clinicians and practices were working hard, against tremendous challenges,” said Rebecca Etz, Ph.D., co-director of The Larry A. Green Center in a statement.

“But now the country is backsliding, and it’s clear that primary care doesn’t have enough strength to deal with the rising number of cases. If primary care were a COVID-19 patient, it would be flat on its back,” Etz said.

The survey conducted by the Larry A. Green Center is part of an ongoing series looking at the attitudes of primary care clinicians and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and the abilities of practices to meet patients’ needs.

Close to 40% of primary care providers report they are maxed out with mental exhaustion and 18% say they spend each week wondering if their practice or job will still be there next week.

In addition to feeling stressed, clinicians and their practices are also experiencing upheaval. The survey found that 22% of clinicians report skipped or deferred salaries, and 78% report preventive and chronic care is being deferred or delayed by patients.

Primary care clinicians report that 42% of in-person volume is down but overall contact with patients is high, while 39% report not being able to bill for the majority of work delivered, the survey found.

“Given the rapidly rising infection rates and persistent lack of PPE, more than a third of primary care clinicians are reporting feeling unsafe at the office, and 20% are cutting back on face-to-face visits while doing more remote outreach,” said Ann Greiner, president and CEO of the Primary Care Collaborative in a statement.

Greiner said this is a clear signal that payers must advance or retain parity for telehealth and telephonic calls.

“It also is a clarion call to move to a new payment system that doesn’t rely on face-to-face visits and that is prospective so practices can better manage patient care,” she said.

Providers say they need more support from private insurers, particularly when it comes to reimbursing for telehealth and telephone visits. 

According to the survey, a primary care doctor in Illinois said, “Recently told we would not be able to conduct telephone visits due to lack of reimbursement. I work in a low-income Medicare population which has low health literacy and no technology literacy. We were 80% telephone and 20% Zoom and in-office. This further exemplifies the extreme health care disparities in the U.S.”

 

 

 

What ‘Racism Is a Public Health Issue’ Means

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-racism-public-health-issue-means-180975326/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200720-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43001584&spUserID=MTA5MDI1MDg0MjgxOQS2&spJobID=1801530184&spReportId=MTgwMTUzMDE4NAS2&fbclid=IwAR027OjpNcyZKM6Jd5aTYhgVaTzaO5lBqI4hCl1xsrKgQRL1bFYH538YIMA

What 'Racism Is a Public Health Issue' Means | Science ...

Epidemiologist Sharrelle Barber discusses the racial inequalities that exist for COVID-19 and many other health conditions.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, whether cases are flaring up, slowing to a simmer, or back on the rise in areas across the United States, the data makes one fact apparent: The viral disease has disproportionally sickened and killed marginalized communities. A New York Times analysis of data from almost 1,000 counties that reported racial breakdowns of COVID-19 cases and fatalities revealed that, compared to white Americans, African Americans and Hispanics were three times more likely to experience and two times more likely to die from the illness. The Navajo Nation has, per capita, more confirmed cases and deaths than any of the 50 states.

Many factors, like access to healthcare and testing, household size, or essential worker status, likely contribute to the pandemic’s outsized toll on communities of color, but experts see a common root: the far-reaching effects of systemic racism.

That racism would have such an insidious effect on health isn’t a revelation to social epidemiologists. For decades, public health experts have discussed “weathering,” or the toll that repeated stressors experienced by people of color take on their health. Studies have demonstrated the link between such chronic stress and high blood pressure, the increased maternal mortality rate among black and indigenous women, and the elevated prevalence of diabetes in black, Latino and especially Native American populations. The pandemic has laid bare these inequities. At the same time, outcry over systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans has roiled the nation, and the phrase, “Racism is a public health issue” has become an internet refrain.

What exactly is the nebulous concept of “public health”? According to Sharrelle Barber, a Drexel University assistant professor of epidemiology, the concept goes beyond the healthcare setting to take a more holistic look at health in different populations. “The charge of public health,” Barber told Smithsonian, “is really to prevent disease, prevent death, and you prevent those things by having a proper diagnosis of why certain groups might have higher rates of mortality, higher rates of morbidity, et cetera.”

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Smithsonian’s conversation with Barber, who studies how anti-black racism impacts health, about the many ways in which racism is a public health crisis:

When people say, “Racism is a public health problem,” what, in broad strokes, do they mean?

We’ve been observing racial inequities in health for decades in this country. W.E.B. DuBois, who was a sociologist, in The Philadelphia Negro showed mortality rates by race and where people lived in the city of Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century and found striking inequalities based on race. Fast forward to 1985, 35 years ago, and we have the [Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored] Heckler Report, one of the most comprehensive studies the country had undertaken, which again found striking inequalities across a wide range of health outcomes: infant mortality, cancer, stroke, et cetera.

There are various explanations for why these racial inequalities exist, and a lot of those have erroneously focused on either biology or genetics or behavioral aspects, but it’s important to examine the root causes of those inequities, which is structural racism…Racism is a public health problem, meaning racism is at the root of the inequities in health that we see, particularly for blacks in this country. So whether it’s housing, criminal justice, education, wealth, economic opportunities, healthcare, all of these interlocking systems of racism really are the main fundamental drivers of the racial inequities that we see among black Americans.

What are some specific factors or policies that have set the foundations for these health inequities?

Any conversation about racial inequities has to start with a conversation about slavery. We have to go back 400-plus years and really recognize the ways in which the enslavement of African people and people of African descent is the initial insult that set up the system of racism within this country. One of the major drivers that I actually study is the link between racial residential segregation, particularly in our large urban areas, and health inequities. Racial residential segregation is rooted in racist policies that date back at least to the 1930s. Practices such as redlining, which devalued black communities and led to the disinvestment in black communities, were then propped up by practices and policies at the local, the state and federal level, for example, things like restrictive covenants, where blacks were not allowed to move into certain communities; racial terror, where blacks were literally intimidated and run out of white communities when they tried to or attempted to move into better communities; and so many other policies. Even when you get the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the system finds a way to reinvent itself to still perpetuate and maintain racism.

Within segregated communities, you have so many adverse exposures, like poor quality housing or lack of access to affordable, healthy foods, lack of access to quality healthcare, and the list goes on. The chronic stressors within these communities are compounded in segregated communities, which then can lead to a wide array of health outcomes that are detrimental. So for example, in the city of Philadelphia, there’s been work that has shown upwards of a 15-year life expectancy difference between racially and economically segregated communities, black communities and wealthier white communities.

I imagine that sometimes you might get pushback from people who ask about whether you can separate the effects of socioeconomic status and race in these differences in health outcomes.

Yeah, that’s a false dichotomy in some ways. Racism does lead to, in many aspects, lower income, education, wealth. So they’re inextricably linked. However, racism as a system goes beyond socioeconomic status. If we look at what we see in terms of racial inequities in maternal mortality for black women, they are three times times more likely to die compared to white women. This disparity or this inequity is actually seen for black women who have a college degree or more. The disparity is wide, even when you control for socioeconomic status.

Let’s talk about the COVID-19 pandemic. How does racism shape the current health crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic has literally just exposed what me and so many of my colleagues have known for decades, but it just puts it in such sharp focus. When you see the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having, particularly for blacks, but also we’re seeing emerging data on Indigenous folks, it is just laying bare the ways racism is operating in this moment to produce those inequities.

Essential workers who had to continue to work during periods of stay at home orders across the country were disproportionately black and Latino. These are also often low wage workers. They weren’t given personal protective equipment, paid sick leave, hazard pay, and really had to choose between being exposed and protecting themselves and having an income during this period. So that’s one way racism operates.

Then we know that those individuals aren’t isolated, that they return to homes that often are crowded because of the lack of affordable housing. Again, another system of racism that compounds the effect. Then you think about places like Flint, Michigan, or places that don’t have access to clean water. When we were telling people, “Wash your hands, social distance,” all of those things, there were people who literally could not adhere to those basic public health prevention measures and still can’t.

So many things were working in tandem together to then increase the risk, and what was frustrating for myself and colleagues was this kind of “blame the victim” narrative that emerged at the very onset, when we saw the racial disparities emerge and folks were saying, “Blacks aren’t washing their hands,” or, “Blacks need to eat better so they have better outcomes in terms of comorbidities and underlying chronic conditions,” when again, all of that’s structured by racism. To go back to your original question, that’s why racism is a public health issue and fundamental, because in the middle of a pandemic, the worst public health crisis in a century, we’re seeing racism operate and racism produce the inequities in this pandemic, and those inequities are striking…

If we had a structural racism lens going into this pandemic, perhaps we would have done things differently. For example, get testing to communities that we know are going to be more susceptible to the virus. We would have done that early on as opposed to waiting, or we would have said, “Well, folks need to have personal protective equipment and paid sick leave and hazard pay.” We would have made that a priority…

The framing [of systemic racism as a public health concern] also dictates the solutions you come up with in order to actually prevent death and suffering. But if your orientation is, “Oh, it’s a personal responsibility” or “It’s behavioral,” then you create messages to black communities to say, “Wash your hands; wear a mask,” and all of these other things that, again, do not address the fundamental structural drivers of the inequities. That’s why it’s a public health issue, because if public health is designed to prevent disease, prevent suffering, then you have to address racism to have the biggest impact.

Can you talk about how police brutality fits into the public health picture?

We have to deal with the literal deaths that happen at the hands of the police, because of a system that is rooted in slavery, but I also think we have to pay attention to the collective trauma that it causes to black communities. In the midst of a pandemic that’s already traumatic to watch the deaths due to COVID-19, [communities] then have to bear witness to literal lynchings and murders and that trauma. There’s really good scholarship on the kind of spillover effects of police brutality that impact the lives of whole communities because of the trauma of having to witness this kind of violence that then does not get met with any kind of justice.

It reinforces this idea that one, our lives are disposable, that black lives really don’t matter, because the whole system upholds this kind of violence and this kind of oppression, particularly for black folks. I’ve done studies on allostatic load [the wear and tear on the body as a result of chronic stress] and what it does, the dysregulation that happens. So just think about living in a society that’s a constant source of stress, chronic stress, and how that wreaks havoc on blacks and other marginalized racial groups as well.

 

 

 

 

Why our “starved” public health system was unprepared for COVID-19

https://mailchi.mp/7d224399ddcb/the-weekly-gist-july-3-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Exclusive: Health spending in Brazil states as small as USD 20 ...

The American public health system has long been considered one of the best in the world, but decades of underfunding have left states and counties woefully ill-equipped to handle the worst pandemic in a century.

An extensive analysis by Kaiser Health News and the Associated Press found that over the past ten years, per-capita spending by state and local public health departments has dropped by 16 and 18 percent, respectively, leaving our public health system “underfunded and under threat, unable to protect the nation’s health”.

Public health departments are mandated to provide a laundry list of critical functions, from restaurant inspections and water testing to immunizations. But over time, many of these functions have been privatized, and staff and budgets reduced. Both were cut further as state budgets tightened.

The federal government has extended $13B in emergency funding, but many local public health departments have still been forced to furlough workers during the pandemic. Citing comparisons to the funding extended during other crises like Zika and the H1N1 influenza, experts are concerned that baseline budgets will continue to decline.

Moreover, public health workers face unprecedented cultural challenges, and are often disrespected by political and clinical leaders. And as public health workers are putting themselves at risk of COVID exposure just to do their jobs, many face resentment and anger from angry citizens who blame them for the policies they are charged to enforce—with some local public health leaders even resigning due to threats and intimidation.

The current crisis has shown that we need a more expansive, and better coordinated public health infrastructure. Getting there will require not just more investment, but repairs to the foundation of this critical national asset.

 

 

 

Hospitals in new COVID-19 hot spots face delicate balancing act with elective surgeries

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/hospitals-new-covid-19-hotspots-face-delicate-balancing-act-elective-surgeries?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT1RJMlpqWTNPREJtTmpGaSIsInQiOiJ0enNDdXU5R0ZEdUJmSE1GcXl5UHd4VjdcL1FQcWE3ckN2YmhLVUhnazNFNlhUOEdLQndTcnRnXC9TbWNzWDhZMW5KWEhtMUxJRDRFdG1uXC84NGVhTHZ5QklGK0Fyc2dadXVcL0phNWFaVGY1SGlVVzN6NFRxVlRLOE9mRmdHR2VmdDgifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

Hospitals in new COVID-19 hot spots face delicate balancing act ...

Some hospital systems located in states that are seeing huge spikes of COVID-19 are continuing to perform elective procedures and developing strategies to avoid a total shutdown.

The experiences of hospitals in states such as Florida and Arizona could inform how systems will handle new surges of COVID-19 cases, especially if a second surge of the virus arrives in the fall. Hospitals have been reticent to shut down surgical procedures, which are pivotal to their bottom line and also impact patient care.

“We are not turning it all the way off,” said Marjorie Bessel, M.D., chief clinical officer for Banner Health, referring to elective procedures. “Our surgeries are needed and medically necessary and people need to have those surgeries done.”

The 28-hospital system has a large footprint in Arizona, which is experiencing a major spike in cases. Bessel said 45% of Arizona COVID-19 patients are in a Banner Health facility.

Like many states, Arizona’s governor required hospitals to shutter elective procedures to ensure there is enough capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19 patients. The governor lifted the shutdown May 1, and Banner has slowly ramped up delayed or canceled elective procedures.

“We attempted to reduce the backlog of people who had been waiting or wait-listed,” Bessel told Fierce Healthcare. “We didn’t quite get back to full normal operations, but we got close.”

That progress has been hindered now as COVID-19 cases soar in the state.

But instead of doing a full shutdown, Banner is implementing a tiered and step-wise approach to surgeries.

“One of the things that we are going to try is to do surgeries for patients that don’t need an inpatient stay,” Bessel said. “We are gonna try that and see how that works for us.”

The system is also tightly monitoring the patients that need an intensive care unit stay after their surgery. Banner can transfer patients to other facilities to ensure it has enough capacity.

“We look at our [patient] census almost hourly throughout the day and the night and make these adjustments to best meet the needs of those in the community,” she said.

Tampa General Hospital in Florida resumed elective procedures back in early May and is still performing surgeries as COVID-19 cases rise. The hospital told Fierce Healthcare that it treats COVID-19 patients in a “negative-pressure unit that is separate from other areas of the hospital.”

The hospital has 81 of these rooms and 100 hospitals and has a surge plan to adjust capacity when necessary.

Another important factor for hospitals is to communicate with patients about what is going on. Tampa General, for instance, issued a release on when it is appropriate to go to the emergency room and outlined the procedures for screening patients of COVID-19 to assuage fears.

Hospitals’ own internal processes have also gotten better amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the operating area, COVID-19 has made us more efficient,” said Michael Zinner, M.D., CEO of the Miami Cancer Institute, which is part of 11-hospital system Baptist Health South Florida. “It has taught us how to move things out of the general operating room into ambulatory and more efficient in the turnovers. It has taught us how to adapt.”

Some states could decide to shut down elective procedures again, which is a move Texas has decided to make in four counties in the state.

Getting and keeping enough PPE

One of the key reasons that states ordered hospitals to shut down surgeries was to preserve enough PPE for COVID-19 care.

But hospital systems say they are in a better place now in terms of PPE than they were at the onset of the pandemic, when a buying spree caused hospitals to fight among each other to get supplies.

“We are a heck of a lot better than we were two months ago,” Zinner said.

He added that Baptist Health even bought a stake in a domestic PPE manufacturer, a move Banner Health made as well.

“Besides the current spike, we were preparing for what we think will be a surge in the fall,” Zinner added.

Another important development for hospitals now is there are guidelines for how to reprocess PPE.

“We have found ways to reprocess some PPE safely so you can reuse it without losing efficacy and take it through a decontamination procedure,” said Michael Calderwood, M.D., an epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

He pointed to using ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide as among methods facilities can use to reprocess their supplies.

The type of PPE that is used in surgeries is also sometimes different than the equipment used to treat COVID-19 patients, Bessel said.

“They use a procedural mask for most of the cases, while the masks in shortage has been the N-95 respirators,” she said.

 

 

 

Cases skyrocketing among communities of color

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-e9aa531d-4ef5-46ec-aedb-56f2bc9a77c9.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Coronavirus cases skyrocketing among communities of color - Axios

Counties populated by larger numbers of people of color tend to have more coronavirus cases than those with higher shares of white people.

What we’re watching: As the outbreak worsens throughout the South and the West, caseloads are growing fastest in counties with large communities of color.

The big picture: The southern and southwestern parts of the U.S. — the new epicenters of the outbreak — have higher Black and Latino or Hispanic populations to begin with.

  • People of color have seen disproportionate rates of infection, hospitalization and death throughout the pandemic.

Between the lines: These inequities stem from pre-existing racial disparities throughout society, and have been exacerbated by the U.S. coronavirus response.

  • Black and Hispanic or Latino communities have had less access to diagnostic testing, and people of color are also more likely to be essential workers. That means the virus is able to enter and spread throughout a community without adequate detection, often with disastrous results.

The bottom line: Until we plug the huge holes in the American coronavirus response — like inadequate testing and contact tracing and a lack of protection for essential workers — people of color will continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic.

Go deeper: People of color have less access to coronavirus testing

 

 

 

3 moral virtues necessary for an ethical pandemic response and reopening

https://theconversation.com/3-moral-virtues-necessary-for-an-ethical-pandemic-response-and-reopening-140688?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20June%2026%202020%20-%201662516009&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20June%2026%202020%20-%201662516009+Version+A+CID_98447eb9cb25b06b85aed07c7fd721bd&utm_source=campaign_monitor_us&utm_term=3%20moral%20virtues%20necessary%20for%20an%20ethical%20pandemic%20response%20and%20reopening

3 moral virtues necessary for an ethical pandemic response and ...

The health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are not equally felt. From the United States to Brazil and the United Kingdomlow-wage workers are suffering more than others and communities of color are most vulnerable to the virus.

Despite the disparities, countries are reopening without a plan to redress these unequal harms and protect the broader community going forward. Our ethics research examines the potential for using virtues as a guide for a more moral coronavirus response.

Virtues are applied morals – actions that promote individual and collective well-being. Examples include generosity, compassion, honesty, solidarity, fortitude, justice and patience. While often embedded in religion, virtues are ultimately a secular concept. Because of their broad, longstanding relevance to human societies, these values tend to be held across cultures.

We propose three core virtues to guide policymakers in easing out of coronavirus crisis mode in ways that achieve a better new normalcompassion, solidarity and justice.

1. Compassion

Compassion is a core virtue of all the world’s major religions and a bedrock moral principle in professions like health care and social work. The distinguishing characteristic of compassion is “shared suffering:” Compassionate people and policies recognize suffering and take actions to alleviate it.

As the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville said, compassion “means that one refuses to regard any suffering as a matter of indifference or any living being as a thing.”

Individual acts of compassion abound in the coronavirus crisis, like frontline health care professionals and neighbors who deliver food, among other examples.

Compassion and solidarity on display at New York’s Elmhurst Hospital, during the April peak of the city’s coronavirus outbreak. Noam Galai/Getty Images

Some pandemic-era policies also reflect compassion, such as regulations preventing evictions and expanding unemployment benefits and giving food aid to poor familes.

A compassion-guided reopening aimed at preventing or reducing human suffering would require governments to continually monitor and alleviate the pain of their people. That includes addressing new forms of suffering that arise as circumstances change.

2. Solidarity

In a global pandemic, the actions people do or don’t take affect the health of others worldwide. Such shared emergencies require solidarity, which recognizes both the inherent dignity of each individual person and the interdependence of all people. As United Nations officials have emphasized, “we are all in this together.”

Public health measures like stay-at-home orders, social distancing and wearing masks reflect solidarity. While compliance in the United States has not been universal, data indicate broad approval for these measures. A new study found that 80% of Americans nationwide support staying home and social distancing and 74% support using face coverings in public.

To achieve these acts of solidarity, the leaders most praised in their countries and abroad – from U.S. National Institutes of Health director Dr. Anthony Fauci to New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern – have relied primarily on moral persuasion, not threats of punishment.

By delivering clear information, giving simple and repeated behavioral guidance, and setting a good example, they’ve helped convince millions to take personal responsibility for protecting their community.

Face masks signal that wearers care about protecting others around them. Islam Dogru/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

3. Justice

Justice focuses on the fair distribution of resources and the social structures that enable what the Dutch philosopher Patrick Loobuyck has called a “condition of equality.”

Justice-oriented policies are necessary for a moral reopening because of the pandemic’s disproportionate health and economic impacts. The evidence clearly shows that communities of colorlow-income populationspeople in nursing homes and those on the margins of society, such as homeless people and undocumented immigrants, are hardest hit.

Justice-oriented policies would aim for equitable balancing of necessary pandemic resources. That means directing testing and health equipment toward vulnerable communities – as identified by COVID-19 tracking data and risk factors like housing density and poverty – and ensuring free, widespread vaccine distribution when it becomes available.

In the U.S., economic justice will also require aggressively investing in minority-run businesses and poorer areas to guard against further harm to owners, employees and neighborhoods.

Similarly, all American school children have lost critical classroom hours, but lower-income children have been disproportionately damaged by remote learning in part due to the digital divide and loss of free lunch programs. Justice would demand channeling additional resources to the students and schools that need them most.

A moral reopening

Using virtues to guide social policies is an old idea. It dates back at least to the Greek thinker Aristotle.

Social distance stickers to prepare Nepal’s empty Tribhuwan International Airport for reopening. Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

New Zealand is a good example of virtuous pandemic policymaking, even considering its advantages in having wealth, low density and no land borders. Its coronavirus response included not only aggressive public health measures but also a well articulated message of being united in the COVID-19 fight and recurring government payments so workers did not have to risk their health for their job.

Note that it isn’t enough to apply just one virtue in a crisis of this magnitude. Policies built on compassion, solidarity and justice should be deployed in combination.

A compassionate post-pandemic response that does not address underlying inequalities, for example, ignores certain communities’ specific needs. Meanwhile, tackling specific injustices without engaging everyone in efforts like mask-wearing endangers the public health.

Bolstered by scientific evidence, virtue ethics can help nations reopen not just economically but morally, too.

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus Doesn’t Recognize Man-Made Borders

Coronavirus Doesn’t Recognize Man-Made Borders

Coronavirus Doesn't Recognize Man-Made Borders - California Health ...

From El Centro Regional Medical Center, the largest hospital in California’s Imperial County, it takes just 30 minutes to drive to Mexicali, the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California. The international boundary that separates Mexicali from Imperial County is a bridge between nations. Every day, thousands of people cross that border for work or school. An estimated 275,000 US citizens and green card holders live in Baja California. El Centro Regional Medical Center has 60 employees who reside in Mexicali and commute across the border, CEO Adolphe Edward told Julie Small of KQED.

Now these inextricably linked places have become two of the most concerning COVID-19 hot spots in the US and Mexico. While Imperial County is one of California’s most sparsely populated counties, it has the state’s highest per capita infection rate — 836 per 100,000according to the California Department of Public Health. This rate is more than four times greater than Los Angeles County’s, which is second-highest on that list. Imperial County has 4,800 confirmed positive cases and 64 deaths, and its southern neighbor Mexicali has 4,245 infections and 717 deaths.

The COVID-19 crisis on the border is straining the local health care system. El Centro Regional Medical Center has 161 beds, including 20 in its intensive care unit (ICU). About half of all its inpatients have COVID-19, Gustavo Solis reported in the Los Angeles Times, and the facility no longer has any available ventilators.

When Mexicali’s hospitals reached capacity in late May, administrators alerted El Centro that they would be diverting American patients to the medical center. “They said, ‘Hey, our hospitals are full, you’re about to get the surge,’” Judy Cruz, director of El Centro’s emergency department, recounted to Rebecca Plevin in the Palm Springs Desert Sun.

By the first week of June, El Centro was so overburdened that “a patient was being transferred from the hospital in El Centro every two to three hours, compared to 17 in an entire month before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Miriam Jordan reported in the New York Times.

Border Hospitals Filled to Capacity

Since April, hospitals in neighboring San Diego and Riverside Counties have been accepting patient transfers to alleviate the caseload at the lone hospital in El Centro, but the health emergency has escalated and now those counties need relief. “We froze all transfers from Imperial County [on June 9] just to make sure that we have enough room if we do have more cases here in San Diego County,” Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health, told Paul Sisson in the San Diego Union-Tribune. El Centro patients are now being airlifted as far as San Francisco and Sacramento.

According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 85% of Imperial County residents are Latino, and statewide, Latinos bear a disproportionate burden of COVID-19. The California Department of Public Health reports that Latinos make up 39% of California’s population but 57% of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Nonessential travel between the US and Mexico has been restricted since March 21, with the measure recently extended until July 21. However, jobs in Southern California, such as in agricultural fields and packing houses, require regular movement between the two countries. “I’m always afraid that people are imagining this rush on the border,” Andrea Bowers, a spokesperson for the Imperial County Public Health Department, told Small. “It’s just folks living their everyday life.”

These jobs, some of which are considered essential because of their role in the food supply chain, may have contributed to the COVID-19 crisis on the border. Agricultural workers often lack access to adequate personal protective equipment and are unable to practice physical distancing. They also are exposed to air pollution, pesticides, heat, and more — long-term exposures that can cause the underlying health conditions that raise the risk of death for COVID-19 patients.

Comite Civico del Valle, a nonprofit focused on environmental health and civic engagement in Imperial Valley, set up 40 air pollution monitors throughout the county and found that levels of tiny, dangerous particulates violated federal limits, Solis reported.

“I can tell you there’s hypertension, there’s poor air pollution, there’s cancers, there’s asthma, there’s diabetes, there’s countless things people here are exposed to,” David Olmedo, an environmental health activist with Comite Civico del Valle, told Solis.

Fear of New Surges

With summer socializing in full swing, health experts worry that COVID-19 spikes will follow. Imperial County saw surges after Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, probably because of lapsed physical distancing and mask use at social events.

Latinos in California are adhering to recommended public health behaviors to slow the spread of the virus. CHCF’s recent COVID-19 tracking poll with Ipsos asked Californians about their compliance with recommended behaviors. Eighty-four percent of Californians, including 87% of Latinos, say they routinely wear a mask in public spaces all or most of the time. Seventy-two percent of Californians, including 73% of Latinos, say they avoid unnecessary trips out of the home most or all of the time, and 90% of Californians, including 91% of Latinos, say they stay at least six feet away from others in public spaces all or most of the time.

A Push to Reopen Anyway

Most counties in California have met the state’s readiness criteria for entering the “Expanded Stage 2” phase of reopening. Imperial County has not. In the past two weeks, more than 20% of all COVID-19 tests in the county came back positive, the Sacramento Bee reported. The state requires counties to have a seven-day testing positivity rate of no more than 8% to enter Expanded Stage 2.

Still, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors is pushing Governor Gavin Newsom for local control over its reopening timetable. The county has a high poverty rate — 24% compared with the statewide average of 13% — and “bills are stacking up,” Luis Pancarte, chairman of the board, said on a recent press call.

He worries that because neighboring areas like Riverside and San Diego have opened some businesses with physical distancing measures in place, Imperial County residents will travel to patronize restaurants and stores. This movement could increase transmission of the new coronavirus, just as reopening Imperial County too soon could as well.

More than 1,350 residents have signed a petition asking Newsom to ignore the Board of Supervisor’s request, Solis reported. The residents called on the supervisors to focus instead on getting the infection rate down and expanding economic relief for workers and businesses.

Cruz, who has been working around the clock to handle the county’s COVID-19 crisis, agrees with the petitioners. The surges after Mother’s Day and Memorial Day made her “really concerned about unlocking and letting people go back to normal,” she told Plevin. “It’s going to be just like those little gatherings that happened [on holidays], but on a bigger scale.”

 

 

 

 

Re-examining the delivery of high-value care through COVID-19

https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/502851-examining-the-delivery-of-high-value-care-through-covid-19#bottom-story-socials

Re-examining the delivery of high-value care through COVID-19 ...

Over the past months, the country and the economy have radically shifted to unchartered territory. Now more than ever, we must reexamine how we spend health care dollars. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed challenges with health care in America, we see two overarching opportunities for change:

1) the under-delivery of evidence-based care that materially improves the lives and well-being of Americans and

2) the over-delivery of unnecessary and, sometimes, harmful care.

The implications of reallocating our health care spending to high-value services are far-ranging, from improving health to economic recovery. 

To prepare for coronavirus patients and preserve protective equipment, clinicians and hospitals across the country halted non-urgent visits and procedures. This has led to a substantial reduction in high-value care: emergency care for strokes or heart attacks, childhood vaccinations, and routine chronic disease management. However, one silver lining to this near shutdown is that a similarly dramatic reduction in the use of low-value services has also ensued.

As offices and hospitals re-open, we have a once in a century opportunity to align incentives for providers and consumers, so patients get more high-value services in high-value settings, while minimizing the resurgence of low-value care. For example, the use of pre-operative testing in low-risk patients should not accompany the return of elective procedures such as cataract removal. Conversely, benefit designs should permanently remove barriers to high-value settings and services, like patients receiving dialysis at home or phone calls with mental health providers.   

People with low incomes and multiple chronic conditions are of particular concern as unemployment rises and more Americans lose their health care coverage. Suboptimal access and affordability to high-value chronic disease care prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was well documented  As financially distressed providers re-open to a new normal, hopeful to regain their financial footing, highly profitable services are likely to be prioritized.

Unfortunately, clinical impact and profitability are frequently not linked. The post-COVID reopening should build on existing quality-driven payment models and increase reimbursement for high-value care to ensure that compensation better aligns with patient-centered outcomes.

At the same time, the dramatic fall in “non-essential care” included a significant reduction in services that we know to be harmful or useless. Billions are spent annually in the US on routinely delivered care that does not improve health; a recent study from 4 states reports that patients pay a substantial proportion (>10 percent) of this tab out-of-pocket. This type of low-value care can lead to direct harm to patients — physically or financially or both — as well as cascading iatrogenic harm, which can amplify the total cost of just one low-value service by up to 10 fold. Health care leaders, through the Smarter Health Care Coalition, have hence called on the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Azar to halt Medicare payments for services deemed low-value or harmful by the USPSTF. 

As offices and hospitals reopen with unprecedented clinical unmet needs, we have a unique opportunity to rebuild a flawed system. Payment policies should drive incentives to improve individual and population health, not the volume of services delivered. We emphasize that no given service is inherently high- or low-value, but that it depends heavily on the individual context. Thus, the implementation of new financial incentives for providers and patients needs to be nuanced and flexible to allow for patient-level variability. The added expenditures required for higher reimbursement rates for highly valuable services can be fully paid for by reducing the use of and reimbursement for low-value services.  

The delivery of evidence-based care should be the foundation of the new normal. We all agree that there is more than enough money in U.S. health care; it’s time that we start spending it on services that will make us a healthier nation.

 

 

 

How The Rapid Shift To Telehealth Leaves Many Community Health Centers Behind During The COVID-19 Pandemic

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200529.449762/full/

How to reduce the impact of coronavirus on our lives - The ...

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the landscape of ambulatory care with rapid shifts to telehealth. Well-resourced hospitals have quickly made the transition. Community health centers (CHCs), which serve more than 28 million low-income and disproportionately uninsured patients in rural and underserved urban areas of the United States, have not fared as well since ambulatory visits have disappearedresulting in furloughs, layoffs, and more than 1,900 temporary site closures throughout the country. Government officials have taken notice, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act infused $1.32 billion toward COVID-19 response and maintaining CHC capacity.

Many states have directed insurers to temporarily cover COVID-19-related services via telehealth while mandating parity of reimbursement for telehealth visits with in-person visits for their Medicaid program.

Preparedness Of Community Health Centers For Telehealth

Despite the changes, many health centers may not be ready to implement high-quality telehealth. study using 2016 data showed that only 38 percent of CHCs used any telehealth. In our review of 2018 Uniform Data System data—the most recent available—from a 100 percent sample of US CHCs, we found that our nation’s health centers are largely unprepared for this transformation.

Across the US, 56 percent of 1,330 CHCs did not have any telehealth use in 2018 (exhibit 1). Of those without telehealth use, only about one in five were in the process of actively implementing or exploring telehealth. Meanwhile, 47 percent of the centers using telehealth were doing so only with specialists such as those at referral centers, rather than with patients. Of those using telehealth, the majority (68 percent) used it to provide mental health services; fewer used it for primary care (30 percent) or management of chronic conditions (21 percent), suggesting that most CHCs with telehealth capabilities prior to COVID-19 were not using it for the most frequent types of services provided at CHCs.

CHCs not using telehealth reported several barriers to implementation (exhibit 2). Thirty-six percent cited lack of reimbursement, 23 percent lacked funding for equipment, and 21 percent lacked training for providing telehealth. Although most barriers were similar in both urban and rural regions, a greater proportion of rural clinics compared to urban clinics (18 percent versus 7 percent) reported inadequate broadband services as an issue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the enormous disparities in telehealth capacity. Without adequate telehealth capacity and support, many CHCs will be left without means of providing the continuous preventive and chronic disease care that can keep communities healthy and out of the hospital. During the crisis, the Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that CHCs have seen 57 percent of the number of weekly visits compared to pre-COVID-19 visit rates, 51 percent of which have been conducted virtually, suggesting that many CHC patients have forgone care that they would have otherwise received. Given CHCs serve a disproportionate share of low-income, racial/ethnic minority, and immigrant populations—populations hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic—any disruption to CHC capacity may exacerbate the racial disparities that have rapidly emerged.

While an important first step, policy makers cannot simply infuse more funding to CHCs and expect them to withstand the challenges of the COVID-19 era. We recommend three targeted strategies to help CHCs adapt and perhaps even thrive beyond COVID-19: legislate permanent parity in telehealth reimbursement for all insurers; allocate sufficient funding and guidance for telehealth equipment, personnel, training, and protocols; and implement telehealth systems tailored to vulnerable populations.

Permanent All-Payer Parity For Telehealth Reimbursement

Payment parity—where telehealth is reimbursed at the same level as an in-person visit—is a crucial issue that must be addressed and instituted beyond the current public health emergency. Without commensurate reimbursement for telehealth, CHCs cannot maintain patient volume or make the long-term investments necessary to remain financially viable. A “global budget” of paying CHCs a fixed payment per patient per month would give practices flexibility in how and where to treat the patient, although this may be politically and practically challenging. Meanwhile, payment parity has already been implemented and could simply be permanently codified into existing reimbursement schemes, giving providers the option to select the best mode of treatment without making financial trade-offs.

In reviewing state telehealth policies during COVID-19, all states have implemented temporary executive orders or released guidance on telehealth access—although with significant variations. At least 22 states have explicitly implemented telehealth parity for Medicaid. For Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded access to telehealth beyond designated rural areas, loosened HIPAA requirements around telehealth platforms, and instituted parity in reimbursement with in-person visits.

To build on these significant steps, states should mandate telehealth parity across all payers and cover all services provided at CHCs, not just COVID-19-related care. At least 12 states have mandated all-payer parity for telehealth. Meanwhile, private insurers have individually adjusted telehealth policies on a state-by-state basis if there was no statewide mandate. Nevertheless, all payers should reimburse at parity given the patchwork quilt of insurance plans that exists at CHCs.

Furthermore, state legislatures and CMS should look to extend parity beyond the current COVID-19 emergency so that CHCs can make sustainable investments that continue to benefit patients. Even as states reopen, in-person visits are unlikely to return to their previous volume as the threat of infection continues to loom. Temporary measures should be made permanent so that CHCs can make sustainable investments that continue to benefit patients.

Funding And Guidance For Equipment, Personnel, Training, And Protocols

For telehealth to function smoothly and reduce errors, proper hardware and software are critical, including telephone service, computers, broadband internet access, and electronic health records. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released funding to procure telehealth services and devices and some CHCs have received private funding; similar targeted funding mechanisms from states and the federal government are necessary at scale to equip hundreds of CHCs with the necessary telehealth capabilities.

However, merely having technology is not sufficient. Proper personnel with appropriate training are key to a high-functioning telehealth system along with support from information technology specialists. Additionally, CHCs need ancillary systems in place to allow for the effective use of phone and video visits. Empanelment systems to attribute patients to providers can allow for longitudinal follow-up even with telehealth. Daily huddles and team-based care can enhance the inherent complexities of coordinating care remotely. Protocols should be tailored for different specialties and services such as nutrition management and social work. Meanwhile, a robust e-consult referral network should allow primary care providers at CHCs to easily connect patients to specialty care when necessary. Adding robust protocols and systems will allow for the successful implementation and scaling of telehealth.

For example, groups of CHCs called the Health Center Controlled Networks (HCCNs), which have traditionally collaborated to leverage health information technology, are positioned to harness their economies of scale and group purchasing power to widely adopt new infrastructure while standardizing protocols. They could be a means to accelerate the adoption of telehealth technologies, trainings, and care models to optimize the use of telehealth across CHCs.

Telehealth Support For Vulnerable Patients

The patient population seen by CHCs presents unique challenges that not all ambulatory practices, particularly those in affluent neighborhoods, may face. Health centers care for many immigrant patients with limited English proficiency. Thus, clinics need financial support to contract with telehealth interpreter and translation services to provide equitable access and care. Better yet, all telehealth platforms contracting with CHCs should be required to provide multilingual support to deliver equitable access to telehealth services.

Moreover, many low-income patients lack health and digital literacy. Virtual telehealth platforms should design applications such that interfaces are intuitive and easy to navigate. They should provide specialized support to guide patients who are not familiar with telehealth systems. Additionally, insurers can reimburse CHCs that provide patient navigators, care coordinators, and shared decision-making support that bridge the health literacy divide.

Many around the US also do not have access to high-speed internet, consistent telephone services, and phones or computers with video conferencing capabilities. First, to allow for flexible access to telehealth for all patients, insurers should permanently waive geographic and originating site restrictions that limit the type and location of facilities from which patients can use telehealth. Second, insurers should waive audio-video requirements and consistently reimburse for phone-only visits to accommodate patients without video conferencing. Third, the type of services covered by telehealth should be expanded—ranging from primary care to physical therapy to nutrition counseling to behavioral health.

To address disparities in ownership of digital devices, taking a page out of the book of educators in low-income neighborhoods, local governments could loan laptops and smartphones or supply internet hotspots and phone-charging stations for these communities to enable access. Additionally, insurers could reimburse for the FCC Lifeline program to provide affordable communication services and cellular data to low-income populations to maintain their outpatient care.

Conclusions

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the US, health care delivery will never be the same. Health centers are struggling as many have been largely unprepared for the abrupt swing toward telehealth. COVID-19 may pose long-lasting damaging effects on CHCs and the patient populations that they serve. Nonspecific federal and state funding will allow CHCs to survive; however, deliberate action is needed to enhance telehealth capacities and ensure long-term resilience.

Similar to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ recent letter to CMS to make various telehealth changes permanent, both CMS and state governments should take immediate action by making permanent parity in reimbursement for telehealth services by all payers. State and federal policy should direct payers to lift onerous restrictions on the types of services covered via telehealth, audio/video requirements, and geographic and originating sites of telehealth services. States and payers should also explore innovative solutions to expand access to cellular data services and digital devices that allow low-income patients to digitally “get to their appointment,” similar to non-emergency medical transportation. Local governments should invest in digital infrastructure that expands broadband coverage and provides internet or cellular access points for people to engage in telehealth. Additionally, CHCs should come together under HCCNs to harness their group purchasing power to rapidly implement telehealth infrastructure that provides multilingual support and other tools that bridge gaps in digital literacy. Finally, best practices, trainings, and protocols should be standardized and disseminated across CHC networks to optimize the quality of telehealth.  

By reorienting the goals for implementing telehealth, policy makers, payers, and providers can empower health centers to thrive into the future and meet the nation’s underserved patients where they are, even during the pandemic. In the long run, telehealth can increase access and equity—but only if the right investments are made now to fill the gaps laid bare by COVID-19.