Indiana hospital employee fired after speaking to New York Times

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hr/indiana-hospital-employee-fired-after-speaking-to-new-york-times.html?utm_medium=email

Hospital Employee Is Fired After Speaking to The New York Times - The New  York Times

NeuroBehavioral Hospital in Crown Point, Ind., terminated the employment of a discharge planner last week after she spoke to the New York Times about nursing homes discharging unprofitable patients, a practice known as “patient dumping,” the NYT reports.

In the Sept. 19 NYT article, Kimberly Jackson said that during the pandemic nursing homes in Illinois and Michigan have repeatedly sent elderly and disabled Medicaid patients to NeuroBehavioral Hospital, a psychiatric facility, even though they were not experiencing psychosis, seemingly in an effort to get rid of patients who are not lucrative for reimbursement or require extra care. 

“The homes seem to be purposely taking symptoms of dementia as evidence of psychosis,” Ms. Jackson is quoted in the article.

She was fired from NeuroBehavioral Hospital Sept. 24. Rebecca Holloway, the hospital’s corporate director of human resources, told the NYT that Ms. Jackson violated the hospital’s media policy. 

Ms. Jackson told the newspaper she was shocked to be fired for speaking to the media.

“I saw something that was wrong, and I called it out,” she said.

NeuroBehavioral Hospital is part of NeuroPsychiatric Hospitals. The South Bend, Ind.-based network has five facilities in Indiana, two in Texas and one in Arizona.  

 

 

Healthcare jobs grew by 75K in August as industry recovers from job losses due to COVID-19

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/healthcare-jobs-grew-by-75k-august-as-industry-recovers-from-job-losses-due-to-covid-19

The healthcare industry added 75,000 jobs last month, a decline compared with the 126,000 that were added in July, the latest federal jobs report shows.

But there are some bright spots for the industry that is still recovering from major unemployment earlier this year sparked by job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs report released Friday showed that hospitals continue to add more jobs after several major subsystems furloughed and laid off workers at the onset of the pandemic in March.

Hospitals added 14,000 jobs in August, which was below the 27,000 jobs the industry added in July.

The industry shed 26,000 jobs in May as hospitals took massive revenue hits from the cancellation of elective procedures and lower patient volume due to COVID-19.

Job numbers continue to recover robustly for other sectors of the healthcare industry.

Physician offices added 27,000 jobs and dentists another 22,000 in August. Home healthcare agencies added 12,000 positions in August.

But things continue to get worse for nursing homes.

Nursing homes and residential care facilities lost 14,000 jobs. But it was the lowest number of job losses the industry has faced in months.

In July the sector lost 28,000 jobs. In June, 20,000 positions were shed.

While several parts of the healthcare industry are adding jobs, the overall picture has been bleak. The federal government reported last month that healthcare employment has been down by nearly 800,000 jobs since February.

Things could continue to get worse for both hospitals and physician offices. Experts predict that hospital volumes, which have rebounded since major drops in March and April, are still below pre-pandemic levels for some facilities.

 

 

 

 

Back Into the Lion’s Den: COVID-19 and Post-Acute Care

https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/87596?xid=nl_popmed_2020-07-17&eun=g885344d0r&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DailyUpdate_071720&utm_term=NL_Daily_Breaking_News_Active

Back Into the Lion's Den: COVID-19 and Post-Acute Care | MedPage Today

Returning COVID patients to unprepared facilities a “recipe for disaster”

As Florida becomes the new epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., the state is trying to ensure that nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities aren’t quickly overwhelmed by patients still suffering from the disease.

So far, it has dedicated 11 facilities solely to COVID patients who need post-acute or long-term care: those who can’t be isolated at their current facilities, as well as those who’ve gotten over the worst of their illness and who can be moved to free up hospital beds for the flow of new patients.

One of those facilities is Miami Medical Center, which was shuttered in October 2017 but now transformed to care for 150 such patients. In total, the network of centers will handle some 750 patients.

“We recognize that that would be something that would be very problematic, to have COVID-positive nursing home residents be put back into a facility where you couldn’t have proper isolation,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said during a press briefing last week. “[That] would be a recipe for more spread, obviously more hospitalizations and more fatalities, and so we prohibited discharging COVID-positive patients back into nursing facilities.”

Whether 750 beds will be enough to accommodate the state’s needs remains a question, but it’s a necessary first step, given testing delays that in some cases stretch more than a week. Experts have warned that patients recovering from COVID shouldn’t be transferred to a facility without being tested first.

Without dedicated facilities, hospitals in Florida in dire need of beds for new patients might have had no other choice.

Key Role for Testing

There are no national data on the percentage of hospitalized COVID-19 patients who need rehabilitation or skilled nursing care after their hospital stay.

In general, about 44% of hospitalized patients need post-acute care, according to the American Health Care Association and its affiliate, the National Center for Assisted Living, which represent the post-acute and long-term care industries.

But COVID has “drastically changed hospital discharge patterns depending on local prevalence of COVID-19 and variations in federal and state guidance,” the groups said in an email to MedPage Today. “From a clinical standpoint, patients with COVID-19 symptoms serious enough to require hospitalization may be more likely to require facility or home-based post-acute medical treatment to manage symptoms. They also may need rehabilitation services to restore lost function as they recover post-discharge from the acute-care hospital.”

The level of post-acute care these patients need runs the spectrum from long-term acute care hospitals and inpatient rehabilitation facilities to skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies.

The variation is partly due to the heterogeneity of the disease itself. While some patients recover quickly, others suffer serious consequences such as strokes, cardiac issues, and other neurological sequelae that require extensive rehabilitation. Others simply continue to have respiratory problems long after the virus has cleared. Even those who are eventually discharged home sometimes require home oxygen therapy or breathing treatments that can require the assistance of home health aides.

Yet post-acute care systems say they haven’t been overwhelmed by a flood of COVID patients. Several groups, including AHCA, NCAL, and the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association (AMRPA) confirmed to MedPage Today that there’s actually been a downturn in post-acute care services during the pandemic.

That’s due to a decline in elective procedures, the societies said, adding that demand is starting to pick back up and that systems will need to be in place for preventing COVID spread in these facilities.

Testing will play a key role in being able to move patients as the need for post-acute care rises, specialists told MedPage Today.

“You shouldn’t move anyone until you know a status so that the nursing facility can appropriately receive them and care for them,” said Kathleen Unroe, MD, who studies long-term care issues at the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University in Indianapolis.

AHCA and NCAL said they “do not support state mandates that require nursing homes to admit hospital patients who have not been tested for COVID-19 and to admit patients who have tested positive. This approach will introduce the highly contagious virus into more nursing homes. There will be more hospitalizations for nursing home residents who need ventilator care and ultimately, a higher number of deaths.”

Earlier this week, the groups sent a letter to the National Governors Association about preventing COVID outbreaks in long-term care facilities. They pointed to a survey of their membership showing that, for the majority, it was taking 2 days or longer to get test results back; one-quarter said it took at least 5 days.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that it would send point-of-care COVID tests to “every single” nursing home in the U.S. starting next week. Initially, the tests will be given to 2,000 nursing homes, with tests eventually being shipped to all 15,400 facilities in the country.

Hospitals can conduct their own testing before releasing patients, and this has historically provided results faster than testing sites or clinical offices, especially if they have in-house services. However, demand can create delays, experts said.

Preparing for the Future

Jerry Gurwitz, MD, a geriatrician at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, says now is the time to develop post-acute care strategies for any future surges.

Gurwitz authored a commentary in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society on an incident in Massachusetts early in the pandemic where a nursing home was emptied to create a COVID-only facility, only to have residents test positive after the majority had already been moved.

“We should be thinking, okay, what are the steps, what’s the alternative to emptying out nursing homes? Can we make a convention center, or part of it, amenable to post-acute care patients?” Gurwitz said. “Not just a bed to lie in, but possibly providing rehabilitation and additional services? That could all be thought through right now in a way that would be logical and lead to the best possible outcomes.”

Organizations can take the lead from centers that have lived through a surge, like those in New York City. Rusk Rehabilitation at NYU Langone Health created a dedicated rehabilitation unit for COVID-positive patients.

“We were able to bring patients out from the acute care hospital to our rehabilitation unit and continue their COVID treatment but also give them the rehabilitation they needed” — physical and occupational therapy (PT/OT) — “and the medical oversight that enhanced their recovery and got them out of the hospital quicker and in better shape,” Steven Flanagan, MD, chair of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone, said during an AMRPA teleconference.

Flanagan noted that even COVID patients who can be discharged home will have long-term issues, so preparing a home-based or outpatient rehabilitation program will be essential.

Jasen Gundersen, MD, chief medical officer of CareCentrix, which specializes in post-acute home care, said there’s been more concern from families and patients about going into a facility, leading to increased interest in home-based services.

“We should be doing everything we can to support patients in the home,” Gundersen said. “Many of these patients are elderly and were on a lot of medications before COVID, so we’re trying to manage those along with additive medications like breathing treatments and inhalers.”

Telemedicine has played an increasing role in home care, to protect both patients and home health aides, he added.

Long-term care societies have said that emergency waivers implemented by CMS have been critical for getting COVID patients appropriate levels of post-acute care, and they hope these remain in place as the pandemic continues.

For instance, CMS relaxed the 3-hour therapy rule and the 60% diagnostic rule, Flanagan said. Under those policies, in order to admit a patient to an acute rehabilitation unit, facilities must provide 3 hours of PT/OT every day, 5 days per week.

“Not every COVID patient could tolerate that level of care, but they still needed the benefit of rehabilitation that allowed them to get better quicker and go home faster,” he said.

Additionally, not every COVID patient fits into one of the 13 diagnostic categories that dictate who can be admitted to a rehab facility under the 60% rule, he said, so centers “could take COVID patients who didn’t fit into one of those diagnoses and treat them and get them better.”

AHCA and NCAL said further waivers or policy changes would be helpful, particularly regarding basic medical necessity requirements for coverage within each type of post-acute setting.

But chief among priorities for COVID discharges to post-acute care remains safety, the groups said.

“The solution is for hospital patients to be discharged to nursing homes that can create segregated COVID-19 units and have the vital personal protective equipment needed to keep the staff safe,” they said. “Sending hospitalized patients who are likely harboring the virus to nursing homes that do not have the appropriate units, equipment and staff to accept COVID-19 patients is a recipe for disaster.”

 

 

 

 

Canada’s “national shame”: Covid-19 in nursing homes

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/7/7/21300521/canada-covid-19-nursing-homes-long-term-care

Why Canada's coronavirus cases are concentrated in nursing homes - Vox

Nursing homes account for 81 percent of Covid-19 deaths in the country. How did this happen?

Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has generally been viewed as a success, with experts pointing to its political leadership and universal health care system as factors.

But there has been one glaring failure in Canada’s fight against the pandemic: its inability to protect the health of its senior citizens in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The situation for these seniors is so dire that the police — and even the military — have been called in to investigate why so many are dying.

In Quebec, some residents have been left for days in soiled diapers, going hungry and thirsty, and 31 residents were found dead at one home in less than a month, leading to accusations of gross negligence. In Ontario, the military found shocking conditions in five homes: cockroaches and rotten food, blatant disregard for infection control measures, and treatment of residents that was deemed “borderline abusive, if not abusive.”

“It’s a national shame,” said Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Toronto’s Sinai Health System. “I don’t think we’ve done a good job at all in Canada.”

A whopping 81 percent of the country’s coronavirus deaths are linked to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That means roughly 7,050 out of 8,700 deaths to date have been among residents and workers in these facilities.

In terms of raw numbers, that may not seem like very much. (For comparison, more than 40,000 US coronavirus deaths have been linked to nursing homes.) And, to be clear, Canada is hardly alone in watching tragedy unfold in these facilities. The US and Europe have seen startling numbers of fatalities among nursing home staffers and residents.

But 81 percent is a staggering statistic, especially for Canada, a country that prides itself on its progressive health policies. And it’s higher than the rate in any other country for which we have good data. In European countries, roughly 50 percent of coronavirus deaths are linked to these facilities. In the US, it’s 40 percent.

Experts say a number of factors are probably involved in Canada’s collapse on the nursing home front, like the fact that Canada has done well at controlling community spread outside these facilities (making nursing home deaths account for a greater share of overall deaths) and that residents in Canadian homes tend to be older and frailer than those in US homes (and thus more vulnerable to severe cases of Covid-19). But they say the high death rate in the homes is due, in large part, to egregious problems with the homes themselves.

“I think we have serious issues with long-term care,” said Vivian Stamatopoulos, a professor at Ontario Tech University who specializes in family caregiving. Experts have been warning political leaders about this for years, but, she said, “they’ve all been playing the game of pass the long-term care hot potato.”

Furious over how their elders are being treated, some Canadians have started petitions, protests, lawsuits, and even hunger strikes outside the homes. They say the government’s failure to respond reveals a deeper failure to care about seniors and people with disabilities, and to make that care concrete by sending facilities what they urgently need: more tests, more personal protective equipment (PPE), and more funding to pay staff members so they don’t have to work multiple jobs at different facilities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged that the situation in the facilities is “deeply disturbing.” He’s sent hundreds of military troops to help feed and care for the seniors in certain homes, where burnout and fear have prompted some staff members to flee their charges. But to some extent, Trudeau’s hands are tied because the facilities fall under provincial jurisdiction.

That leaves families terrified for their loved ones. They’re asking: Why have things gone so terribly wrong? How could this happen in Canada?

 

Canada’s crisis was a long time in the making

The first thing to understand is that Canada’s universal health care system does not cover nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That means these institutions are not insured by the federal system. Different provinces offer different levels of cost coverage, and even within a given province, you’ll find that some homes are publicly run, others are run by nonprofits, and still others are run by for-profit entities.

“This is the main problem — they don’t fall under the Canada Health Act,” said Stamatopoulos, adding that the same is not true of hospitals. “That’s why you see that the hospitals did so well. They had the resources.”

From the standpoint of someone in the US, where more than 132,000 people have died of Covid-19, Canada may seem to be doing well overall: The death toll there is around 8,700. Per capita, Canada’s coronavirus death rate is roughly half that of America’s. It’s clear that the northern neighbor has been doing better at keeping case numbers down, partly because it’s giving safer advice on easing social distancing.

Which makes the dire situation in nursing homes stand out even more. Longstanding problems with Canada’s nursing homes have clearly fueled the tragic situation unfolding there.

These homes are chronically understaffed. They tend to hire part-time workers, underpay them, and not offer them sick leave benefits. That means the workers have to take multiple jobs at different facilities, potentially spreading the virus between them. Many are immigrants or asylum seekers, and they fear putting their precarious employment at risk by, say, taking a sick day when they need it. (These problems aren’t unique to Canada, but as in other countries, they’ve been thrown into stark relief by the pandemic.)

A lot of Canadian homes also have poor infrastructure, built to the outdated design standards of the 1970s. Residents often live four to a room, share a bathroom, and congregate in crowded common spaces. That makes it very difficult to isolate those who get sick.

These problems are even worse in Canada’s for-profit nursing homes. Research shows that these private facilities provide inferior care for seniors compared to the public facilities, in large part because they hire fewer staff members and put fewer resources into upgrading or redesigning their buildings. The for-profit model incentivizes cost-cutting. (Similarly problematic profit motives and poor living conditions persist in US nursing homes, too.)

Canadian experts have been raising the alarm about these issues for more than a decade. So why haven’t they been addressed?

“Frankly, overall, it really reflects ageism in society. We choose not to invest in frail older adults,” Stall said. He added that early on in the pandemic, the public imagination latched onto stories of relatively young people on ventilators in hospitals. The hospitals and their staff got resources, free food, nightly applause. Homes for older people didn’t get the same attention.

“Nursing homes are not something we’re proud of societally. There’s a lot of shame around even having someone in a nursing home,” Stall said.

Stamatopoulos noted there are other forces at play, too. “I’d say it’s a trifecta of ageism, racism, and sexism,” she said. “When you look at this industry, it’s majority female older residents being cared for by majority racialized women.”

Ronnie Cahana, a 66-year-old rabbi who lives with paralysis at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal, recently wrote a letter to Quebec’s premier. “I am not a statistic. I am a fully sentient, confident human being, who needs to have my humanity honored,” he wrote, adding that the premier should help the workers who take care of people like him. “Many of them are immigrants, newly beginning their lives in Quebec. … Please give them all the resources they require. Listen to their voices.”

 

How to make nursing homes safer — in Canada and beyond

If you want to keep nursing homes from becoming coronavirus hot spots, look to the strategies that have proven effective elsewhere. For months now, Canadian public health experts and advocates have been begging leaders to do just that.

All residents and workers in nursing homes should be tested regularly, whether they show symptoms or not. Anyone who gets sick should be isolated in a separate part of the building or taken to the hospital. Workers should be given adequate PPE, and universal masking among them should be mandatory. Working at multiple homes during the pandemic should be disallowed.

“Look at South Korea. They’ve had no deaths in long-term care because they treated it like SARS right from the get-go,” Stamatopoulos said. “They did aggressive testing. They were strict in terms of quarantining any infected residents and were quick to move them to hospitals. We’ve done the opposite.” Earlier in the pandemic, some Canadian hospitals sent recovering Covid-19 patients back to their nursing homes too soon; they inadvertently infected others.

“And look at New York state,” Stamatopoulos continued. “Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order on May 10 requiring all staff and residents to be tested twice a week. That aggressive testing helped halt the outbreaks in the homes.” Quebec and Ontario have yet to do this.

British Columbia, a Canadian standout at preventing deaths in nursing homes, adopted several wise measures early on. Way back on March 27, the western province made it illegal to work in more than one home — and topped up workers’ wages so they wouldn’t have to. It gave them full-time jobs and sick leave benefits.

It’s clear that so long as long-term care falls under provincial jurisdiction, nursing home residents will be better off in some provinces than in others. So some Canadian experts, including Stamatopoulos, are arguing that these facilities should be nationalized under the Canada Health Act. Others are not sure that’s the answer; Stall thinks it may make sense to target only for-profit homes, compelling them to improve their poor infrastructure. In the long term, any homes that do not meet modern standards should be redesigned.

Another lesson for the long term comes from Hong Kong, which has managed to totally avoid deaths in its nursing homes. Even before the coronavirus came along, all homes had a trained infection controller who put precautions in place to prevent the spread of infections. (US homes saw a similar system enacted under President Obama, but President Trump has proposed that it be rolled back.) Four times a year, Hong Kong’s homes underwent pandemic preparedness drills so that if an outbreak occurred, they’d be ready with best practices. It did, and they were.

Preparedness clearly saves lives. Hopefully, Canada and other countries will learn that lesson going forward so that no more lives are needlessly lost.

As Cahana, the resident in the Montreal home, said, “Each of us is crying to be heard. We say: More life! Please! We are not afraid of the future. We are afraid that society is forgetting us.”

 

 

 

 

 

Nursing homes go unchecked as fatalities mount

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/15/nursing-homes-coronavirus-321220

Health workers help a patient into Cobble Hill Health Center

About half of all facilities have yet to be inspected for procedures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Thousands of nursing homes across the country have not been checked to see if staff are following proper procedures to prevent coronavirus transmission, a form of community spread that is responsible for more than a quarter of the nation’s Covid-19 fatalities.

Only a little more than half of the nation’s nursing homes had received inspections, according to data released earlier this month, which prompted a fresh mandate from Medicare and Medicaid chief Seema Verma that states complete the checks by July 31 or risk losing federal recovery funds.

A POLITICO survey of state officials, however, suggests that the lack of oversight of nursing homes has many roots. Many states that were hit hard by the virus say they chose to provide protective gear to frontline health workers rather than inspectors, delaying in-person checks for weeks if not months. Some states chose to assess facilities remotely, conducting interviews over the phone and analyzing documentation, a process many experts consider inadequate.

In places where state officials claimed that in-person inspections have taken place, the reports found no issues in the overwhelming majority of cases, even as Covid-19 claimed more than 31,000 deaths in nursing homes. Less than 3 percent of the more than 5,700 inspection surveys the federal government released this month had any infection control deficiencies, according to a report on Thursday by the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a nonprofit patient activist group.

“It is not possible or believable that the infection control surveys accurately portray the extent of infection control deficiencies in U.S. nursing facilities,” the report states.

Noting the vast and unprecedented danger that the coronavirus presents to the elderly and people with disabilities, patient advocates described the lack of inspections as a shocking oversight.

“If you’re not going in, you’re essentially taking the providers’ word that they’re doing a good job,” said Richard Mollot, the executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition.

In March, the Trump administration paused routine nursing home inspections, which typically occur about once a year. Instead, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asked that state agencies focus on inspecting facilities for their infection control practices, such as whether staff wash their hands or properly wear protective clothing before tending to multiple patients.

But for more than two months, state inspectors failed to enter half the country’s homes — a revelation that prompted CMS to crack down.

“We are saying you need to be doing more inspections,” Verma told reporters, explaining her message to states. “We called on states in early March to go into every single nursing home and to do a focused inspection around infection control.”

In some hard-hit states, inspectors conducted remote surveys rather than going into nursing homes, a process that involved speaking to staff by phone and reviewing records. In Pennsylvania, for example, inspectors conducted interviews and reviewed documents for 657 facilities from March 13 to May 15 — most of which was done remotely.

But critics say the failure to make in-person checks prevented states from identifying lapses at a crucial time. The fact that family members were blocked from visiting their relatives — a policy intended to prevent the virus from entering the facility — removed another source of accountability in homes, some of which ended up having more than half of their residents stricken with the coronavirus.

Keeping relatives out of nursing homes — a policy that continues — has made it more difficult to advocate on behalf of residents in the state, said Karen Buck, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based SeniorLAW Center. More than 4,000 residents of nursing homes and other personal care facilities have died of coronavirus in the Keystone State.

“The inspections are vital,” said Buck. “I think access to residents is essential, and we are very concerned that Pennsylvanians are behind where we should be. We recognize these are very difficult times for our leaders, but we can’t continue to wait.”

Pennsylvania officials maintained that the remote inspections were beneficial, and said they went into the facilities when they felt there was significant concern over residents’ health.

“We can conduct the same interviews, review the same documentation and do all the same actions we could in person, except for the ability to be on-site,” health department spokesperson Nate Wardle wrote in an email, adding that Verma’s office approved the remote procedures earlier this spring.

Nonetheless, many public health experts say they believe states have erred in choosing not to prioritize nursing home inspectors when handing out protective equipment. While it makes sense to direct resources to front-line workers, nursing home inspectors were only a tiny number of people compared to the hundreds of thousands of hospital employees — and experts contend that the situation in nursing facilities was dire enough to require immediate action.

David Grabowski, an expert in aging and long-term care at Harvard Medical School, said he understands inspectors were put in a tough position in the early days of the pandemic, but that inspections needed to be ramped up within a few weeks.

“I think after those first few weeks we should have had personal protective equipment in place for the inspectors and doing these inspections remotely is really second best,” he said.

And yet state after state waited on inspections or performed them remotely.

In Utah, only a small portion of the state’s nearly 100 facilities received inspections over the first three months of the pandemic. Only now is the state health department ramping up on-site inspections, with the goal of hitting all of its nursing homes by the second week of July. It conducted 14 last week, and received some help from federal inspectors with another four.

The state survey agency said it made a conscious determination not to request protective equipment for state inspectors in the initial phase of the pandemic, fearing they would take supplies away from frontline health providers, said Greg Bateman, the head of long-term care surveys. Instead, the department conducted 43 remote reviews and talked to nursing homes at least twice a week.

In Idaho, state inspectors have only recently received the N95 masks, face shields and gowns necessary to perform inspections.

“The reason we had difficulty is because Idaho, like many other states, was challenged to secure adequate PPE to meet the needs of the various health care entities,” health department spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr wrote in an email. “The state surveyors had concerns about potentially using PPE that other entities could use that provide direct medical services and care to Idaho residents.”

In New Jersey, which has seen roughly 6,000 deaths in nursing homes and other communal settings, the health department also first chose sending supplies to frontline workers in nursing homes and hospitals. The state began making in-person checks when it received PPE April 16, said Dawn Thomas, a New Jersey health department spokesperson.

But New Jersey still has a long way to go. The state has completed inspections in only about 115 out of more than 360 nursing homes as of June 3, according to Thomas.

While Pennsylvania, Idaho, New Jersey and other states complained of a lack of PPE, other states battling major outbreaks of coronavirus in nursing homes have completed nearly all of their inspections, calling into question the explanations for why others have struggled.

Washington state, where the Life Care Center of Kirkland became an early epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has completed 99 percent of its inspections, the state reported this spring to CMS. And Michigan, which has had nearly 2,000 deaths in nursing homes, has completed nearly 85 percent of its inspections.

By contrast, states such as West Virginia and Maryland, with only 11.4 and 16.4 percent of facilities inspected as of the end of May, lagged way behind.

A nursing home in Maryland’s Carroll County served as an early example of just how quickly the coronavirus can ravage nursing homes. On March 26, a resident at a Carroll County, Md., facility tested positive for the coronavirus. Two weeks later, the number of confirmed cases was up to 77 out of 95 residents, along with 24 staff members. At least 28 residents have died.

A Maryland health department spokesperson says the state took “early and aggressive measures” to address the virus in nursing homes, noting that Maryland created the country’s first strike teams — composed of state and local health officials, medical professionals and National Guard members — to help triage seniors and scrutinize facilities.

Nonetheless, state inspectors didn’t have personal protective equipment until late April, according to the health department.

“In April, PPE acquisition was challenging across the nation and in Maryland due to the rapidly evolving Covid-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson wrote in an email, adding that the department sought N95 masks, gowns and other items from “the national stockpile, FEMA and national and international supply chains.”

With many facilities still closed to visitors, the slow pace of inspections lost a key window into the nursing homes during the pandemic.

“I think having more eyes on what’s happening is really important,” Grabowski said.

Last month, the Health and Human Services’ watchdog agency announced plans to review the pace of inspections in nursing homes and barriers to completing them — referring to such checks as a “fundamental safeguard to ensure that nursing home residents are safe and receive high-quality care.”

“There is no substitute for boots on the ground — for going into a facility to assess whether a facility is abiding by long-standing infection control practices,” Verma told reporters this month.

 

 

 

Predicting COVID-19’s Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care Market

Predicting COVID-19’s Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care Market

Predicting COVID-19's Long-Term Impact on the Home Health Care ...

The Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) and its unintended ripple effects were supposed to be the dominant story this year for the nation’s 12,000 or so Medicare-certified home health care providers. But the coronavirus has rewritten the script for 2020, throwing most of the industry’s previous projections out the window.

While PDGM — implemented on Jan. 1 — will still shape home health care’s immediate future, several other long-term trends have emerged as a result of the coronavirus and its impact on the U.S. health care system.

These trends include unexpected consolidation drivers and the sudden embrace of telehealth technology, the latter of which is a development that will affect home health providers in ways both profoundly positive and negative. Unforeseen, long-term trends will also likely include drastic overhauls to the Medicare Home Health Benefit, a revival of SNF-to-home diversion and more.

Now that providers have had roughly three full months to adapt to the coronavirus and transition out of crisis mode, Home Health Care News is looking ahead to what the industry can expect for the rest of 2020 and beyond.

‘Historic’ consolidation will still happen, with some unexpected drivers

Although the precise extent was often up for debate, most industry insiders predicted some level of consolidation in 2020, driven by PDGM, the phasing out of Requests for Anticipated Payment (RAPs) and other factors.

That certainly appeared to be true early on in the year, with Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED), LHC Group Inc. (Nasdaq: LHCG) and other home health giants reporting more inbound calls related to acquisition opportunities or takeovers of financially distressed agencies.

In fact, during a fourth-quarter earnings call, LHC Group CEO and Chairman Keith Myers suggested that 2020 would kick off a “historic” consolidation wave that would last several years.

“As a result of this transition in Q4 and the first few months of 2020, we have seen an increase in the number of inbound calls from smaller agencies looking to exit the business,” Myers said on the call. “Some of these opportunities could be good acquisition candidates, and others we can naturally roll into our organic growth through market-share gains.”

Most of those calls stopped with the coronavirus, however.

Although the vast majority of home health agencies have experienced a decline in overall revenues during the current public health emergency, many have been able to compensate for losses thanks to the federal government’s multi-faceted response.

For some, that has meant taking advantage of the approximately $1.7 billion the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has distributed through its advanced and accelerated payment programs. For others, it has meant accepting the somewhat murky financial relief sent their way under the Provider Relief Fund.

In addition to those two possible sources of financial assistance, all Medicare-certified home health agencies have benefitted from Congress’s move to suspend the 2% Medicare sequestration until Dec. 31.

Eventually, those coronavirus lifelines and others will be pulled back, kickstarting M&A activity once again.

“We believe that a lot of the support has stopped or postponed the shakeout that’s occurring in home health — or that we anticipated would be occurring around this time,” Amedisys CEO and President Paul Kusserow said in March. “We don’t believe it’s over, though.”

Not only will consolidation happen, but some of it will be fueled by unexpected players.

With the suspension of elective surgeries and procedures, hospitals and health systems have lost billions of dollars. Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA), estimated that hospitals are losing as much as $50 billion a month during the coronavirus.

“I think it’s fair to say that hospitals are facing perhaps the greatest challenge that they have ever faced in their history,” Pollack, whose organization represents the interests of nearly 5,000 hospitals, told NPR.

To cut costs, some hospitals may look to get rid of their in-house home health divisions. It’s a trend that may already be happening, too.

The Home Health Benefit will look drastically different

With a mix of temporary and permanent regulatory changes, including a redefinition of the term “homebound,” the Medicare Home Health Benefit already looks very different now than it did three months ago. But the benefit will likely go through further retooling in the not-too-distant future.

Broadly, the Medicare Part A Trust Fund finances key services for beneficiaries.

While vital to the national health care infrastructure, the fund is going broke — and fast. In the most recent CMS Office of the Actuary report released in April, the Trust Fund was projected to be entirely depleted by 2026.

The COVID-19 virus has only accelerated the drain on the fund, with some predicting it to run out of money two years earlier than anticipated. A group of health care economics experts from Harvard and MIT wrote about the very topic on a joint Health Affairs op-ed published Wednesday.

“COVID-19 is causing the Medicare Part A program and the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund to contend with large reductions in revenues due to increased unemployment, reductions in salaries, shifts to part-time employment from full time and a reduction in labor force participation,” the group wrote. “In addition to revenue declines, there was a 20% increase in payments to hospitals for COVID-related care and elimination of cost sharing associated with treatment of COVID.”

Besides those and other cost pressures, Medicare is simultaneously expanding by about 10,000 new people every day. The worst-case scenario: the Medicare Part A Trust Fund goes broke closer to 2024.

There are numerous policy actions that can be taken to reduce the financial strain on the trust fund. In their op-ed, for example, the team of Harvard and MIT researchers suggested shifting all of home health care under Part B.

In 2018, Medicare spent about $17.9 billion on home health benefits, with roughly 66% of that falling under Part B, which typically includes community-based care that isn’t linked to hospital or nursing home discharge. Consolidating all of home health care into Part B would move billions of dollars away from Part A, in turn expanding the Trust Fund’s lifecycle.

“Such a policy change would move nearly $6 billion in spending away from the Part A HI Trust Fund but would put upward pressure on the Part B premium,” the researchers noted.

Of course, all post-acute care services may still undergo a transformation into a unified payment model one day. However, the coronavirus has devastated skilled nursing facility (SNF) operators, who were already dealing with the Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM), a payment overhaul of their own.

Regulators may shy away from introducing further disruption until SNFs have a chance to recover, a process likely to take years — if not decades.

Previously, the Trump administration had estimated that a unified payment system based on patients’ clinical needs rather than site of care would save a projected $101.5 billion from 2021 to 2030.

Telehealth will be a double-edged sword

The move toward telehealth was a long-term trend that home health providers were cognizant of before COVID-19, even if some clinicians were personally skeptical of virtual visits. But because the virus has demanded social distancing, telehealth has forced its way into health care in a manner that would have been almost unimaginable in 2019.

In late April, during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, President Donald Trump indicated that the number of patients using telehealth had increased from about 11,000 per week to more than 650,000 people per week.

Meanwhile, MedStar Health went from delivering just 10 telehealth visits per week to nearly 4,000 per day.

Backed by policymakers, technology companies and consumers, telehealth is likely here to stay.

“I think the genie’s out of the bottle on this one,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in April. “I think it’s fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there’s absolutely no going back.”

The telehealth boom could mean improved patient outcomes and new lines of business for home health providers. But it could also mean more competition moving forward.

For telehealth to be a true game-changer for home health providers, Congress and CMS would need to pave the way for direct reimbursement. Currently, a home health provider cannot get paid for delivering virtual visits in fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has floated the idea of introducing legislation that would allow for direct telehealth reimbursement in the home health space, but, so far, no concrete steps have been taken — at least in public. With a hyper-polarized Congress and a long list of other national priorities taking up the spotlight, it’s impossible to guess whether home health telehealth reimbursement will actually happen.

While home health providers can’t directly bill for in-home telehealth visits, hospitals and certain health care practitioners can. That regulatory imbalance could lead to providers being used less frequently as “the eyes and ears in the home,” some believe.

A new SNF-to-home diversion wave will emerge

Over the past two decades, many home health providers have been able to expand their patient census by poaching patients from SNFs. Often referred to as SNF-to-home diversion, the approach didn’t just benefit home health providers, though. It helped cut national health care spending by shifting care into lower-cost settings.

At first, the stream of SNF residents being shifted into home health care was like water being shot from a firehose: In 2009, there were 1,808 SNF days per 1,000 FFS Medicare beneficiaries, a March 2018 analysis from consulting firm Avalere Health found. By 2016, that number plummeted to 1,539 days per 1,000 beneficiaries — a 15% drop.

In recent years, that steady stream has turned into a slow trickle, with more patients being sent to home health care right off the bat. In the first quarter of 2019, 23.3% of in-patient hospital discharges were coded for home health care, while 21.1% were coded for SNFs, according to data from analytics and metrics firm Trella Health.

Genesis HealthCare (NYSE: KEN) CEO George Hager suggested the initial SNF-to-home diversion wave was over in March 2019. Kennett Square, Pennsylvania-based Genesis is a holding company with subsidiaries that operate hundreds of skilled nursing centers across the country.

“To anyone [who] would want [to] or has toured a skilled nursing asset, I would challenge you to look at the patients in our building and find patients that could be cared for in a home-based or community-based setting,” Hager said during a presentation at the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference. “The acuity levels of an average patient in a skilled nursing center have increased dramatically.”

Yet that was all before the coronavirus.

Over the last three months, more than 40,600 long-term care residents and workers have died as a result of COVID-19, according to an analysis of state data gathered by USA Today. That’s about 40% of the U.S.’s overall death toll.

CMS statistics place that number closer to 26,000.

In light of those figures and infection-control issues in congregate settings, home health providers will see a new wave of SNF-to-home diversion as robust as the first. As the new diversion wave happens, providers will need to be prepared to care for patients with higher acuity levels and more co-morbidities.

“[That’s going to change] the psyche of the way people are going to view SNFs and long-term care facilities for the rest of our generation,” Bruce Greenstein, LHC Group’s chief strategy and innovation officer, said during a June presentation at the Jefferies Virtual Healthcare Conference. “You would never want to put your parent in a facility if you don’t have to. You want options now.”

One stat to back up this idea: Over 50% of family members are now more likely to choose in-home care for their loved ones than they were prior to the coronavirus, according to a survey from health care research and consulting firm Transcend Strategy Group.

Separate from SNF-to-home diversion, hospital-to-home models will also likely continue to gain momentum after the coronavirus.

There will be a land grab for palliative care

Over the past two years, home health providers have aggressively looked to expand into hospice care, partly due to the space’s relatively stable reimbursement landscape. Amedisys — now one of the largest hospice providers in the U.S. — is the prime example of that.

During the COVID-19 crisis, palliative care has gained greater awareness. Generally, palliative care is specialized care for people living with advanced, serious illnesses.

“Right now, we are seeing from our hospital partners and our community colleagues the importance of palliative care, including advanced care as well as appropriate pain and symptom management,” Capital Caring Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Kestenbaum previously told HHCN. “The number of palliative care consults we’re being asked to perform in the hospitals and in the community has actually increased. The importance of palliative care is absolutely being shown during this pandemic.”

As community-based palliative care programs continue to prove their mettle amid the coronavirus, home health providers will increasingly consider expanding into the market to further diversify their services.

Currently, just 10% of community-based palliative care programs are operated by home health agencies.

Demand will reach an all-time high

The home health industry may ultimately shrink in terms of raw number of agencies, but the overall size of the market is very likely to expand at a faster-than-anticipated pace.

In years to come, home health providers will still ride the macro-level tailwinds of an aging U.S. population with a proven preference to age in place — that hasn’t changed. But because of SNF-to-home diversion and calls to decentralize the health care system with home- and community-based care, providers will see an increase in referrals from a variety of sources.

In turn, home health agencies will need to ramp up their recruitment and retention strategies.

There’s already early evidence of this happening.

Last week, in St. Louis, Missouri, four home-based care agencies announced that they were hiring a combined 1,000 new employees to meet the surge in demand, according to the St. Louis Dispatch.

Meanwhile, Brookdale Senior Living Inc. (NYSE: BKD) similarly announced plans to hire 4,500 health care workers, with 10% of those hires coming from the senior living operator’s health care services segment.

Bayada Home Health Care likewise announced plans to ramp up hiring.

“We are absolutely hiring more people now than ever,” Bayada CEO David Baiada previously told HHCN. “The need for services — both because of societal and demographic evolution, but also because of what we anticipate as a rebound and an increase in the demand for home- and community-based care delivery as a result of the pandemic — is requiring us to continue to accelerate our recruitment efforts.”

The bottom line: The coronavirus may have presented immediate obstacles for home health providers, but the long-term outlook is brighter than ever.

 

 

 

 

Identifying “triple-threat” counties at higher risk of COVID outbreaks

https://mailchi.mp/9f24c0f1da9a/the-weekly-gist-june-5-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

“Superspreader facilities”—nursing homes, correctional facilities, and meatpacking plants—have become major COVID hotspots across the US. Many counties are dealing with a large outbreak in one type of tightly-packed facility or another.

Case in point: the outbreak at Cook County Jail in Chicago, which now accounts for a whopping 15.7 percent of all COVID cases in the state of Illinois. Some places, like Colorado’s Weld County, are managing outbreaks across all three types of superspreader facilities.

The graphic above highlights the nearly 260 counties that we’ve termed “triple-threat counties”: those which have all three types of superspreader facilities. The counties are mapped using our Gist Healthcare COVID-19 Risk Factor Index, which identifies particularly vulnerable populations using chronic disease, demographic, and acute care access variables.

The top 10 “triple-threat counties” by risk index score are all in more rural areas of the country with limited acute care access and more vulnerable populations—places where a COVID outbreak is likely to be particularly devastating. Seven of the 10 have a high percentage of African-American or Hispanic/Latino residents, groups with a an outsized burden of COVID-19 illness and death. These risk factors are intersectional; for example, food processing plants employ twice as many Hispanic workers as the national average, and a disproportionate share of long-term care workers are black.

[Click here for more information and interactive data from our analysis of the risk impact of these superspreader facilities.]

 

 

 

 

Nearly 30,000 nursing home residents died during coronavirus pandemic, government report shows

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/06/01/coronavirus-nursing-home-deaths/?pwapi_token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJjb29raWVuYW1lIjoid3BfY3J0aWQiLCJpc3MiOiJDYXJ0YSIsImNvb2tpZXZhbHVlIjoiNWI2M2EzNDJhZGU0ZTI3Nzk1NTBjYTFiIiwidGFnIjoid3BfbmV3c19hbGVydF9yZXZlcmUiLCJ1cmwiOiJodHRwczovL3d3dy53YXNoaW5ndG9ucG9zdC5jb20vYnVzaW5lc3MvMjAyMC8wNi8wMS9jb3JvbmF2aXJ1cy1udXJzaW5nLWhvbWUtZGVhdGhzLz93cG1rPTEmd3Bpc3JjPWFsX25ld3NfX2FsZXJ0LWhzZS0tYWxlcnQtbmF0aW9uYWwmdXRtX3NvdXJjZT1hbGVydCZ1dG1fbWVkaXVtPWVtYWlsJnV0bV9jYW1wYWlnbj13cF9uZXdzX2FsZXJ0X3JldmVyZSJ9.y8RVJLZebL0pp382hoWXZKNybZzPCGaPXQJE5N60CqU&utm_campaign=wp_news_alert_revere&utm_medium=email&utm_source=alert&wpisrc=al_news__alert-hse–alert-national&wpmk=1

Coronavirus Claims at Least 6,900 Nursing Home Deaths in U.S. ...

About one in five homes reported a death but about 20 percent of nursing homes have not yet reported case counts.

At least 26,000 residents died and more than 60,000 were sickened as the novel coronavirus continued its unrelenting assault on America’s nursing homes, sweeping through facilities in every corner of the country.

The numbers, released late Monday, represent the first official national accounting of fatalities in the 15,000 nursing homes certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The tally, however, is incomplete. About 20 percent of the nation’s nursing homes did not report data to the federal government. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Monday said early analysis shows homes with a history of infection-control and other health deficiencies were more likely to have covid-19 outbreaks.

Early analysis shows that facilities with a one-star quality rating were more likely to have large numbers of COVID-19 cases than facilities with a five-star quality rating. CMS will take enforcement action against the nursing homes that have not reported data into the CDC as required under CMS participation requirements.

 

 

 

Few U.S. adults say they’ve been diagnosed with coronavirus, but more than a quarter know someone who has

Few U.S. adults say they’ve been diagnosed with coronavirus, but more than a quarter know someone who has

28% of U.S. adults say they know someone diagnosed with COVID-19 ...

Relatively few Americans say they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, but many more believe they may have been infected or say they personally know someone who has been diagnosed.

Only 2% of U.S. adults say they have been officially diagnosed with COVID-19 by a health care provider, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. And 2% say they have taken a blood test that showed they have COVID-19 antibodies, an indication that they previously had the coronavirus. But many more Americans (14%) say they are “pretty sure” they had COVID-19, despite not getting an official diagnosis. And nearly four-in-ten (38%) say they’ve taken their temperature to check if they might have the disease.

Although few Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 themselves, many more say they know someone with a positive diagnosis. More than one-in-four U.S. adults (28%) say they personally know someone who has been diagnosed by a health care provider as having COVID-19. A smaller share of Americans (20%) say they know someone who has been hospitalized or who has died as a result of having the coronavirus.

Some groups are more likely than others to report personal experiences with COVID-19. For instance, black adults are the most likely to personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died as a result of the disease. One-third of black Americans (34%) know someone who has been hospitalized or died, compared with 19% of Hispanics and 18% of white adults. Black Americans (32%) are also slightly more likely than Hispanic adults (26%) to know someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Public health studies have found black Americans are disproportionately dying or requiring hospitalization as a result of the coronavirus.

28% of U.S. adults say they know someone diagnosed with COVID-19 ...

Areas in the northeastern United States have recorded some of the highest rates of coronavirus cases and fatalities, and this is reflected in the Center’s survey. About four-in-ten adults living in the Northeast (42%) say they personally know someone diagnosed with COVID-19, significantly more than among adults living in any other region. People living in the Northeast (31%) are also the most likely to know someone who has been hospitalized or died as a result of the disease.

One aspect of personal risk for exposure to the coronavirus is whether someone is employed in a setting where they must have frequent contact with other people, such as at a grocery store, hospital or construction site. Given the potential for the spread of the coronavirus within households, risk to individuals is also higher if other members of the household are employed in similar settings. Among people who are currently employed full-time, 35% are working in a job with frequent public contact. Among those working part-time, almost half work (48%) in such a setting. For those living in a household with other adults, 35% report that at least one of those individuals is working in a job that requires frequent contact with other people.

Taken together, nearly four-in-ten Americans (38%) have this type of exposure – either currently working in a job that requires contact with others, living in a household with others whose jobs require contact, or both.

Hispanics (at 48%) are more likely than either blacks (38%) or whites (35%) to have this type of personal or household exposure. An earlier Center analysis of government data found Hispanic adults were slightly more likely to work in service-sector jobs that require customer interaction, and that are at higher risk of layoffs as a result of the virus. In fact, the current Center survey found Hispanics were among the most likely to have experienced pay cuts or job losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.

28% of U.S. adults say they know someone diagnosed with COVID-19 ...

Interpersonal exposure in the workplace is also more widespread among younger adults. And there is a 10 percentage point difference between upper- and lower-income Americans in exposure, with lower-income adults more likely to work in situations where they have to interact with the public, or to live with people who do.

Health experts warn that COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to people who have underlying medical conditions. In the survey, one-third of adults say they have such a condition. Among this group, nearly six-in-ten (58%) say that the coronavirus outbreak is a major threat to their personal health. Among those who do not report having an underlying medical condition, just 28% see the outbreak as a major threat to their health. Americans who have an underlying health condition are also more likely than those who do not to say they’ve taken their temperature to check if they might have COVID-19 (47% vs. 33% of those without a health condition).

Self-reports of an underlying health condition vary greatly by age. Among those ages 18 to 29, just 16% say they have a condition; this rises steadily with age to 56% among those 65 and older. Whites are a little more likely than blacks and Hispanics to report having a health condition, but both blacks (at 54%) and Hispanics (52%) are far more likely than whites (32%) to say that the coronavirus outbreak is “a major threat” to their health.

 

 

 

 

100,000 Lives Lost to COVID-19. What Did They Teach Us?

https://www.propublica.org/article/100000-lives-lost-to-covid-19-what-did-they-teach-us?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter&utm_content=feature

May 27 data: Four new Utah COVID-19 deaths as US count tops ...

Each person who has died of COVID-19 was somebody’s everything. Even as we mourn for those we knew, cry for those we loved and consider those who have died uncounted, the full tragedy of the pandemic hinges on one question: How do we stop the next 100,000?

The United States has now recorded 100,000 deaths due to the coronavirus.

It’s a moment to collectively grieve and reflect.

Even as we mourn for those we knew, cry for those we loved and consider also those who have died uncounted, I hope that we can also resolve to learn more, test better, hold our leaders accountable and better protect our citizens so we do not have to reach another grim milestone.

Through public records requests and other reporting, ProPublica has found example after example of delays, mistakes and missed opportunities. The CDC took weeks to fix its faulty test. In Seattle, 33,000 fans attended a soccer match, even after the top local health official said he wanted to end mass gatherings. Houston went ahead with a livestock show and rodeo that typically draws 2.5 million people, until evidence of community spread shut it down after eight days. Nebraska kept a meatpacking plant open that health officials wanted to shut down, and cases from the plant subsequently skyrocketed. And in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic, political infighting between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio hampered communication and slowed decision making at a time when speed was critical to stop the virus’ exponential spread.

COVID-19 has also laid bare many long-standing inequities and failings in America’s health care system. It is devastating, but not surprising, to learn that many of those who have been most harmed by the virus are also Americans who have long suffered from historical social injustices that left them particularly susceptible to the disease.

This massive loss of life wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t simply unfortunate and regrettable. Even without a vaccine or cure, better mitigation measures could have prevented infections from happening in the first place; more testing capacity could have allowed patients to be identified and treated earlier.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, far from it.

At this moment, the questions we need to ask are: How do we prevent the next 100,000 deaths from happening? How do we better protect our most vulnerable in the coming months? Even while we mourn, how can we take action, so we do not repeat this horror all over again?

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Though we’ve long known about infection control problems in nursing homes, COVID-19 got in and ran roughshod.

From the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, when the virus tore through the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have emerged as one of the deadliest settings. As of May 21, there have been around 35,000 deaths of staff and residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet the facilities have continued to struggle with basic infection control. Federal inspectors have found homes with insufficient staff and a lack of personal protective equipment. Others have failed to maintain social distancing among residents, according to inspection reports ProPublica reviewed. Desperate family members have had to become detectives and activists, one even going as far as staging a midnight rescue of her loved one as the virus spread through a Queens, New York, assisted living facility.

What now? The risk to the elderly will not decrease as time goes by — more than any other population, they will need the highest levels of protection until the pandemic is over. The CEO of the industry’s trade group told my colleague Charles Ornstein: “Just like hospitals, we have called for help. In our case, nobody has listened.” More can be done to protect our nursing home and long term care population. This means regular testing of both staff and residents, adequate protective gear and a realistic way to isolate residents who test positive.

Racial disparities in health care are pervasive in medicine, as they have been in COVID-19 deaths.

African Americans have contracted and died of the coronavirus at higher rates across the country. This is due to myriad factors, including more limited access to medical care as well as environmental, economic and political factors that put them at higher risk of chronic conditions. When ProPublica examined the first 100 recorded victims of the coronavirus in Chicago, we found that 70 were black. African Americans make up 30% of the city’s population.

What now? States should make sure that safety-net hospitals, which serve a large portion of low-income and uninsured patients regardless of their ability to pay, and hospitals in neighborhoods that serve predominantly black communities, are well-supplied and sufficiently staffed during the crisis. More can also be done to encourage African American patients to not delay seeking care, even when they have “innocent symptoms” like a cough or low-grade fever, especially when they suffer other health conditions like diabetes.

Racial disparities go beyond medicine, to other aspects of the pandemic. Data shows that black people are already being disproportionately arrested for social distancing violations, a measure that can undercut public health efforts and further raise the risk of infection, especially when enforcement includes time in a crowded jail.

Essential workers had little choice but to work during COVID-19, but adequate safeguards weren’t put in place to protect them.

We’ve known from the beginning there are some measures that help protect us from the virus, such as physical distancing. Yet millions of Americans haven’t been able to heed that advice, and have had no choice but to risk their health daily as they’ve gone to work shoulder-to-shoulder in meat-packing plants, rung up groceries while being forbidden to wear gloves, or delivered the mail. Those who are undocumented live with the additional fear of being caught by immigration authorities if they go to a hospital for testing or treatment.

What now? Research has shown that there’s a much higher risk of transmission in enclosed spaces than outdoors, so providing good ventilation, adequate physical distancing, and protective gear as appropriate for workers in indoor spaces is critical for safety. We also now know that patients are likely most infectious right before or at the time when symptoms start appearing, so if workplaces are generous about their sick leave policies, workers can err on the side of caution if they do feel unwell, and not have to choose between their livelihoods and their health. It’s also important to have adequate testing capacity, so infections can be caught before they turn into a large outbreak.

Frontline health care workers were not given adequate PPE and were sometimes fired for speaking up about it.

While health workers have not, thankfully, been dying at conspicuously higher rates, they continue to be susceptible to the virus due to their work. The national scramble for ventilators and personal protective equipment has exposed the just-in-time nature of hospitals’ inventories: Nurses across the country have had to work with expired N95 masks, or no masks at all. Health workers have been suspended, or put on unpaid leave, because they didn’t see eye to eye with their administrators on the amount of protective gear they needed to keep themselves safe while caring for patients.

First responders — EMTs, firefighters and paramedics — are often forgotten when it comes to funding, even though they are the first point of contact with sick patients. The lack of a coherent system nationwide meant that some first responders felt prepared, while others were begging for masks at local hospitals.

What now? As states reopen, it will be important to closely track hospital capacity, and if cases rise and threaten their medical systems’ ability to care for patients, governments will need to be ready to pause or even dial back reopening measures. It should go without saying that adequate protective gear is a must. I also hope that hospital administrators are thinking about mental health care for their staffs. Doctors and nurses have told us of the immense strain of caring for patients whom they don’t know how to save, while also worrying about getting sick themselves, or carrying the virus home to their loved ones. Even “heroes” need supplies and support.

What we still have to learn:

There continue to be questions on which data is lacking, such as the effects of the coronavirus on pregnant women. Without evidence-based research, pregnant women have been left to make decisions on their own, sometimes trying to limit their exposure against their employer’s wishes.

Similarly, there’s a paucity of data on children’s risk level and their role in transmission. While we can confidently say that it’s rare for children to get very ill if they do get infected, there’s not as much information on whether children are as infectious as adults. Answering that question would not just help parents make decisions (Can I let my kid go to day care when we live with Grandma?) but also help officials make evidence-based decisions on how and when to reopen schools.

There’s some research I don’t want to rush. Experts say the bar for evidence should be extremely high when it comes to a vaccine’s safety and benefit. It makes sense that we might be willing to use a therapeutic with less evidence on critically ill patients, knowing that without any intervention, they would soon die. A vaccine, however, is intended to be given to vast numbers of healthy people. So yes, we have to move urgently, but we must still take the time to gather robust data.

Our nation’s leaders have many choices to make in the coming weeks and months. I hope they will heed the advice of scientists, doctors and public health officials, and prioritize the protection of everyone from essential workers to people in prisons and homeless shelters who does not have the privilege of staying home for the duration of the pandemic.

The coronavirus is a wily adversary. We may ultimately defeat it with a vaccine or effective therapeutics. But what we’ve learned from the first 100,000 deaths is that we can save lives with the oldest mitigation tactics in the public health arsenal — and that being slow to act comes with a terrible cost.

I refuse to succumb to fatalism, to just accepting the ever higher death toll as inevitable. I want us to make it harder for this virus to take each precious life from us. And I believe we can.