Primary Care Faces Existential Threat Over Healthcare Workforce Woes

40% of primary care clinicians worry that the field won’t exist in five years as many in the healthcare workforce experience burnout and plan to leave the field.

 Clinician burnout, lay-offs, and other healthcare workforce challenges coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic are creating issues for primary care, according to a new survey.

About 40 percent of over 700 primary care clinicians recently surveyed by the Larry A. Green Center, Primary Care Collaborative (PCC), and 3rd Conversation worry that primary care won’t exist in five years’ time. Meanwhile, about a fifth say they expect to leave primary care within the next three years.

“Primary care is the front door to the healthcare system for most Americans, and the door is coming off its hinges,” Christine Bechtel, co-founder of 3rd Conversation, a community of patients and clinicians, said in a press release. “The fact that 40 [percent] of clinicians are worried about the future of primary care is of deep concern, and it’s time for new public policies that value primary care for the common good that it is.”

The threat to primary care comes as practices ramp up vaccination efforts. The survey found that more than half of respondents (52 percent) report receiving enough or more than enough vaccines for their patients, and 31 percent are partnering with local organizations or government to prioritize people for vaccination.

Stress levels at primary care practices are also decreasing compared to the height of the pandemic, according to survey results. However, over one in three, or 36 percent, of respondents say they are experiencing hardships, such as feeling constantly lethargic, having trouble finding joy in anything, and/or struggling to maintain clear thinking.

Clinician fatigue could spell trouble for the primary care workforce and the field itself, researchers indicated.

“The administration has now recognized the key role primary care is able to play in reaching vaccination goals,” Rebecca Etz, PhD, co-director of The Larry A. Green Center, said in the release. “While the pressure is now on primary care to convert the most vaccine-hesitant, little has been done to support primary care to date. Policymakers need to bear witness to the quiet heroism of primary care – a workforce that suffered five times more COVID-related deaths than any other medical discipline.”

Many primary care clinicians are hoping the federal government steps in to change policy and bolster primary care and the healthcare workforce. The government can start with how primary care is paid, respondents agreed.

About 46 percent of clinicians responding to the survey said policy should change how primary care is financed so that the field is not in direct competition with specialty care. The same percentage of clinicians also said policy to change how primary care is paid by shifting reimbursement from fee-for-service.

Over half of clinicians (56 percent) also agreed that policy should protect primary care as a common good and make it available to all regardless of ability to pay.

Alternative payment models helped providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, research from healthcare improvement company Premier, Inc. showed. Their study found that organizations in alternative payment models were more likely to leverage care management, remote patient monitoring, and population health data during the pandemic compared to organizations that relied on fee-for-service revenue.

“Many of the practices, especially in primary care, have been extremely cash strapped and have been struggling for many years,” Sanjay Doddamani, MD, told RevCycleIntelligence last year.

This has been a big moment for us to act in accelerating our performance-based incentive payments to our primary care doctors. We moved up our schedule of payments so that they could at least have some continued flow of funds,” added the chief physician executive and COO at Southwestern Health Resources, a clinically integrated network based in Texas.

Value-based contracting could be the key to primary care’s existence in the future, that is, if practices get on board with alternative payment models. A majority of respondents to the latest Value-Based Care Assessment from Insights said over 75 percent of their organization’s revenue is from fee-for-service contracts. This was especially true for respondents working in physician practices, of which 64 percent relied almost entirely on fee-for-service payments.

Are recent labor actions getting nursing unions what they want?

While nurses in Cook County, Illinois, struck a deal in recent days, those on a three-month-plus strike against a Tenet hospital in Massachusetts plan a protest at the chain’s Dallas headquarters.

Thousands of healthcare workers have waged strikes this summer to demand better staffing levels as the pandemic brought greater attention to what happens when a nurse must take care of more patients than they can reasonably handle.

In New York, a report from the attorney general that found nursing homes with low staffing ratings had higher fatality rates during the worst COVID-19 surges last spring helped spur legislators to pass a safe staffing law long-advocated for by the New York State Nurses Association.

While unions elsewhere face a steeper climb to win the success found in New York, through strikes and other actions, they’re attempting to get new staffing rules outlined in their employment contracts.

Most nursing strikes include demands for ratios, or limits on the number of patients a nurse can be required to care for, Rebecca Givan, associate professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, said.

“And employers are very anxious about that because it threatens their bottom line, so often when a compromise is found, it’s something that approaches a ratio but maybe has a bit more flexibility,” Givan said.

Some have been successful, like the 1,000 Chicago-area nurses at Stroger Hospital, Provident Hospital and Cook County Jail who waged a one-day strike on June 24 after negotiating with the county over a new contract for nearly eight months.

They reached a tentative agreement shortly after the strike, stipulating the hiring of 300 nurses, including 125 newly added positions throughout the system within the next 18 months.

The deal also includes wage increases to help retain staff, ranging from 12% to 31% over the contract’s four-year term, according to National Nurses United.

Meanwhile, 700 nurses at Tenet’s St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, have been on strike for over 100 days over staffing levels. Nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association have been trying to get an actual nurse-to-patient ratio outlined for specific units in their next contract.

The two sides haven’t come close to reaching a deal yet, and some nurses will travel to Tenet’s headquarters in Dallas on Wednesday in an attempt to appeal to corporate executives, according to MNA.

At the same time, federal lawmakers wrote to Tenet CEO Ron Rittenmeyer seeking details on the chain’s use of federal coronavirus relief funds amid the strike and alongside record profits it turned last year.

The hospital denied lawmakers’ claims in the letter that Tenet used federal funds to enrich executives and shareholders rather than meet patient and staff needs, saying in a statement it strongly objects to the “mischaracterization of the facts and false allegations of noncompliance with any federal program.”

The strike is currently the longest among nurses nationally in a decade, according to the union.

A number of other major hospital chains have contracts covering their nurses expiring this summer, including for-profit HCA Healthcare and nonprofit Sutter Health.

Unionized nurses at 10 HCA hospitals in Florida have reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement, though members still need to ratify it, according to National Nurses United. The details are still unclear.

And after joining NNU just last year, 2,000 nurses at HCA’s Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, ratified their first contract Saturday, which includes wage increases and the formation of a nurse-led staffing committee.

Newly-formed unions take an average of 409 days to win a first contract, according to an analysis from Bloomberg Law. In the healthcare industry, new unions take an average of 528 days to win a first contract, the longest among all sectors examined.

Across the country at Sutter’s California hospitals, disputes haven’t been so easily resolved. Healthcare workers at eight Sutter hospitals planned protests throughout July “to expose the threat to workers and patients caused by understaffing, long patient wait times and worker safety issues at Sutter facilities,” according to Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West, which represents the workers.

Similar to the ongoing Tenet hospital strike, SEIU is highlighting Sutter’s profits so far this year and the federal relief funds it received.

An “employee diaspora” is complicating network contracting

https://mailchi.mp/bade80e9bbb7/the-weekly-gist-june-18-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Home - Diaspora Dialogues

This week we caught up with a benefits consultant colleague to get her perspective on how employers are thinking about health benefits as they come out of the pandemic. “It seems like employers and health systems have switched places in their enthusiasm for direct contracting,” she shared.

Prior to the pandemic, employer interest in working directly with a health system around a narrow network product to deliver coordinated care was growing, but there were few systems offering attractive solutions. Now more health systems are ready, but the number of employees working remotely has created a new obstacle for direct contracting.

One chief people officer for a large employer noted that while some employees have relocated permanently, others are still hopping from one Airbnb to another: “It’s at the point where I have no idea where half of our people are living on any given day.” In this new “employee diaspora”, some firms are seeing ten percent or more of their formerly office-based workforce now located outside the market, creating challenges for a geographically concentrated network to meet their needs.

How many companies will allow permanent telework, and how many employees will take them up on it, remains to be seen (our colleague suggested we’ll know more in the fall, after the return to school anchors many families in place). But for now, the best employer partners for direct contracting efforts are likely mid-sized regional employers, who are more likely to retain a local workforce, and face fewer obstacles to making benefit design changes.

A “perfect storm” is brewing in the healthcare workforce

https://mailchi.mp/bade80e9bbb7/the-weekly-gist-june-18-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Plastic Possibilities: Resin Production Meets the Perfect Storm |  plasticstoday.com

A topic that’s come up in almost every discussion we’ve had with health system executive teams and boards recently is workforce strategy. Beyond the immediate political debate about whether temporary unemployment benefits are exacerbating a shortage of workers, there’s a growing recognition that the healthcare workforce is approaching something that looks like a “perfect storm”.

The workforce is mentally and physically exhausted from the pandemic, which has taken a toll both professionally and personally. Many workers are rethinking their work-life balance equations in the wake of a difficult year, during which working conditions and family responsibilities shifted dramatically. That, along with broader economic inflation, is driving demands for higher wages and a more robust set of benefits.

Meanwhile, many health systems are shifting into cost-cutting mode, due to COVID-related shifts in demand patterns and continued downward pressure on reimbursement rates, forcing a renewed focus on workforce productivity.

These combined forces threaten to create a negative spiral, which could lead to even worse shortages and deteriorating workplace engagement. It’s striking how quickly the “hero” narrative has shifted to a “crisis” narrative, and we agree completely with one health system board member who told us recently that workforce strategy is now the number one issue on his agenda.

No easy answers here, but we’ll continue to report on innovative approaches to addressing these difficult challenges.

Tenet California hospital workers set May 6 union rally after shareholders meeting

South California healthcare workers plan payment, safety protest during Tenet  Healthcare investor meeting | FierceHealthcare

Workers at three Tenet Healthcare hospitals in Southern California will hold a rally May 6 to highlight their concerns about staffing, wages and benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the union that represents them. 

The rally comes as the National Union of Healthcare Workers is in negotiations with Dallas-based Tenet for more than 600 direct Tenet employees at Fountain Valley Regional, including respiratory therapists, nursing assistants and X-ray technicians. The union is also in negotiations with the Compass Group, a food and support services provider, for about 225 housekeepers and food service workers at Tenet California hospitals in Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos and Lakewood, who are subcontracted by Tenet and employees of Compass.

Union spokesperson Matt Artz told Becker’s workers contend Tenet has remained profitable during the pandemic, but it did not implement appropriate safety measures. He said Tenet also rejected proposals to better staff certain units, and it has rejected the union’s proposal to stop subcontracting out the housekeepers and food service workers who have struggled to afford healthcare.

The union said Tenet, a major for-profit hospital operator, has the financial means to address these issues. The company reported a $97 million profit in the first quarter of 2021. Tenet stock also recently hit a new 52-week high, according to an April 29 report from Zacks Equity Research. 

“These profits are not helping workers or patients,” Christina Rodriguez, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley (Calif.) Regional Hospital, said in a May 5 news release. “They’re being made at the expense of patient care and the people who have put their health on the line to help patients during this pandemic. At the height of the surge, I would go home crying that we didn’t have enough staff to help patients struggling to survive.”

Tenet contends the issue is not about Tenet but rather about negotiations between Compass and the union. Tenet said it is focused on staff and patients. 

“This matter is not about us. It’s about a negotiation strictly between the NUHW and the Compass Group, which is a vendor that provides a range of food, laundry and other support services to hospitals,” Tenet told Becker’s. “At all times, our main concern is the safety of our staff, the integrity of our facilities and the best possible outcomes for our patients, and we remain hopeful that the NUHW and Compass will reach a positive outcome at the conclusion of their respective negotiations.”

But the union said Tenet can decide whether to bring the subcontracted housekeepers and food service workers in-house, which would benefit them in terms of wages and health benefits. 

Meanwhile, Compass said it will continue to negotiate in good faith, with union members.

“Our hardworking team members are at the heart of what we do, and their determination to provide best-in-class care and service is inspiring,” a Compass spokesperson told Becker’s. “We take pride in paying competitive wages and providing affordable benefits and continue to uphold our agreement with the NUHW. We have a long history of listening to our employees, working productively with unions, and will continue to meet and negotiate — always in good faith.” 

Respiratory therapists, housekeepers, nursing assistants, medical technicians, dietary workers and others represented by the union said they plan to rally from 11 a.m. to noon May 6 outside Fountain Valley Regional. 

The rally, scheduled after Tenet’s shareholders meeting, includes workers from Los Alamitos (Calif.) Medical Center and Lakewood (Calif.) Regional Medical Center. Union workers whose jobs are subcontracted to Compass will speak during the rally, the union said. 

One-third of small businesses say health insurance is a top concern during COVID-19: survey

Dive Brief:

  • Small businesses are struggling to cover the high costs of healthcare for their employees after a year of COVID-19, according to a new poll sponsored by the Small Business Majority and patient advocacy group Families USA.
  • More than one in three small businesses owners said it’s a challenge getting coverage for themselves and their workers. That pain is particularly acute among Black, Asian American and Latino businesses, which have fewer resources than their White counterparts, SBMfound.
  • As a result, small businesses want policymakers to expand coverage access and lower medical costs, beyond the temporary fixes included in the sweeping $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congress earlier this month.

Dive Insight:

Providing health insurance can be pricey for small employers, a challenge that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic and its subsequent economic downturn.

Accessing health insurance has been a major barrier over the course of COVID-19, the national survey of 500 businesses with 100 employees or fewer in November found. The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners for SBM and Families USA, found many such businesses have had to slash benefits during the pandemic. Among small business owners that have reduced insurance benefits, 36% have trimmed their employer contribution for medical premiums and 56% switched to a plan with a lower premium.

Additionally, one in five small business owners say they plan to change or lower coverage in the next few months, while only about a quarter have been able to maintain coverage for temporarily furloughed employees.

The situation is bleaker for minority-owned small businesses. Overall, 34% say accessing health insurance has been a top barrier during COVID-19, but that figure rises to 50%, 44% and 43% for Black, Asian American and Latino business respondents, SBM, which represents some 80,000 small businesses nationwide, said.

That’s in line with past SBM polling finding non-white entrepreneurs are more likely to face temporary or permanent closure in the next few months than their white counterparts, and are also more likely to struggle with rent, mortgage or debt repayments.

Though employers expect a more stabilized business environment starting in the second quarter, many are still reeling from difficult economic circumstances last year. COVID-19 capsized normal efforts to calculate medical cost trends for 2021, complicating financial planning for the year ahead — especially for fragile small businesses.

Washington did allocate a significant amount of financial aid for small businesses last year, and the ARP includes numerous provisions including increased subsidies for health insurance premiums for two years, and extended COBRA coverage for laid off employees through September.

But respondents to this latest polling urged for more long-term support.

The most popular policy proposal was bringing down the cost of prescription drugs, with 90% of businesses saying they supported the measure and 54% saying they were in strong support. Protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions was also popular, with 87% of small business owners in total support and 51% strongly supporting.

Three-fourths of small business owners strongly support a public health insurance option, while 73% support expanding Medicaid eligibility in all states and 66% support letting people buy into Medicare starting at age 55.

Both a public option and lower age of eligibity for Medicare are key tenets of President Joseph Biden’s healthcare plan — though getting both through Congress is unlikely. And long-time business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation for Independent Business hold major sway on such issues and tend to be more recalcitrant on progressive policy changes.

Still, calls have been mounting for employers, which insure more than half of the U.S., to do more to move the needle on medical costs, as price increases outpace overall inflation.

A survey of large to mid-size employers from the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions published Wednesday found at least three-fourths of employers support drug price regulation, surprise billing regulation, hospital price transparency and hospital rate regulation.

Haven, the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture to disrupt health care, is disbanding after 3 years

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/04/haven-the-amazon-berkshire-jpmorgan-venture-to-disrupt-healthcare-is-disbanding-after-3-years.html

Haven, the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture to disrupt health care, is disbanding  after 3 years

KEY POINTS

  • Haven began informing employees Monday that it will shut down by the end of next month, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
  • Many of the Boston-based firm’s 57 workers are expected to be placed at Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway or JPMorgan Chase as the firms each individually push forward in their efforts, the people said.
  • One key issue facing Haven was that each of the three founding companies executed their own projects separately with their own employees, obviating the need for the joint venture to begin with, according to the people, who declined to be identified speaking about the matter.

Haven, the joint venture formed by three of America’s most powerful companies to lower costs and improve outcomes in health care, is disbanding after three years, CNBC has learned exclusively.

The company began informing employees Monday that it will shut down by the end of next month, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Many of the Boston-based firm’s 57 workers are expected to be placed at AmazonBerkshire Hathaway or JPMorgan Chase as the firms each individually push forward in their efforts, and the three companies are still expected to collaborate informally on health-care projects, the people said.

The announcement three years ago that the CEOs of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase had teamed up to tackle one of the biggest problems facing corporate America – high and rising costs for employee health care  – sent shock waves throughout the world of medicine. Shares of health-care companies tumbled on fears about how the combined might of leaders in technology and finance could wring costs out of the system.

The move to shutter Haven may be a sign of how difficult it is to radically improve American health care, a complicated and entrenched system of doctors, insurers, drugmakers and middlemen that costs the country $3.5 trillion every year. Last year, Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett seemed to indicate as much, saying that were was no guarantee that Haven would succeed in improving health care.

Shares of UnitedHealth GroupHumana and CVS Health each climbed more than 2% after the Haven news broke.

One key issue facing Haven was that while the firm came up with ideas, each of the three founding companies executed their own projects separately with their own employees, obviating the need for the joint venture to begin with, according to the people, who declined to be identified speaking about the matter.

Coming just three years after the initial rush of fanfare about the possibilities for what Haven could accomplish, its closure is a disappointment to some. But insiders claim that it will allow the founding companies to implement ideas from the project on their own, tailoring them to the specific needs of their employees, who are mostly concentrated in different cities.

The move comes after Haven’s CEO, Dr. Atul Gawande, stepped down from day-to-day management of the nonprofit in May, a change that sparked a search for his successor.

Brooke Thurston, a spokeswoman for Haven, confirmed the company’s plans to close and gave this statement:

The Haven team made good progress exploring a wide range of healthcare solutions, as well as piloting new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable,” Thurston said in an email.

Moving forward, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will leverage these insights and continue to collaborate informally to design programs tailored to address the specific needs of our individual employee populations and locations,” she said.