Physician burnout reaches record levels 

https://mailchi.mp/3a7244145206/the-weekly-gist-december-9-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

The long hours, stressful conditions, and labor shortages brought on by the pandemic have done serious harm to the physician workforce. The graphic above tracks physician burnout, a combination of emotional exhaustion, loss of agency, and depersonalization that has become the primary measure of the pandemic’s toll on workers, to reveal that physicians are demoralized like never before. 

Physician burnout levels had been decreasing since 2014, in part due to practice consolidation and the expansion of team-based care models. Burnout reached its lowest levels in 2020—perhaps explained by a pandemic-induced sense of purpose—but 2021 then saw a dramatic spike in every measure of physician dissatisfaction, as the heroic glow of the early pandemic faded, and an overtaxed and understaffed delivery system became the new norm.

In explaining how the pandemic has impacted their career decisions, surveyed physicians list unsustainable burnout and stress as their top concern, and 11 percent say they have exited the profession, either for retirement or a non-clinical job, in the past two years. Four in ten surveyed physicians report changing jobs since 2020, mainly within similar or different practice settings, citing a desire for better work-life balance as their primary motivation. (It should be caveated that these data are from a smaller survey of 534 physicians, 40 percent of whom identified as “early career”.) 

While the solutions here aren’t new, they are challenging: we must continue to implement team-based care models that provide physicians top-of-license practice and improved work-life balance, remove administrative tasks wherever possible, and ensure that we are communicating and engaging physicians—employed and independent alike—in organizational strategy and decision-making. 

A tripledemic hurricane is making landfall. We need masks, not just tent hospitals

A viral hurricane is making landfall on health care systems battered by three pandemic years. With the official start of winter still weeks away, pediatric hospitals are facing crushing caseloads of children sick with RSV and other viral illnesses. Schools that promised a “return to normal” now report widespread absences and even closures from RSV and flu in many parts of the country, contributing to parents missing work in record numbers. With this year’s flu season beginning some six weeks early, the CDC has already declared a flu epidemic as hospitalizations for influenza soared to the highest point in more than a decade.

A storm of these proportions should demand not only crisis clinical measures, but also community prevention efforts. Yet instead of deploying public health strategies to weather the storm, the U.S. is abandoning them.

Even before the arrival of the so-called tripledemic, U.S. health systems were on the brink. But as the fall surge of illness threatens to capsize teetering hospitals, the will to deploy public health measures has also collapsed. Pediatricians are declaring “This is our March 2020” and issuing pleas for help while public health efforts to flatten the curve and reduce transmission rates of Covid-19 — or any infectious disease — have effectively evaporated. Unmanageable patient volumes are seen as inevitable, or billed as the predictable outcome of an “immunity debt,” despite considerable uncertainty surrounding the scientific underpinnings and practical utility of this concept.

The Covid-19 pandemic should have left us better prepared for this moment. It helped the public to understand that respiratory viruses primarily spread through shared indoor air. Public health practices to stop the spread of Covid-19 — such as masking, moving activities outdoors, and limiting large gatherings during surges — were incorporated into the daily routines of many Americans. RSV and flu are also much less transmissible than Covid-19, making them easier to control with common-sense public health practices.

Instead of dialing up those first-line practices as pediatric ICUs overflow and classrooms close, though, the U.S. is relying on its precious and fragile last lines of defense to combat the tripledemic: health care professionals and medical facilities.

Warnings and advisories recently issued by U.S. public health leadersclinical leaderspoliticians, and the media have consistently neglected to mention masking as a powerful short-term public health strategy that can blunt the surge of viral illness. Instead, recent guidance has exclusively promoted handwashing and cough etiquette. These recommendations run counter to recent calls to build on improved understanding of the transmission of respiratory viruses.

In the U.S.’s efforts to “move on” from thinking about Covid, it has created a “new normal” that is deeply abnormal — one in which we normalize resorting to crisis measures, such as treating patients in tents, instead of using common-sense public health strategies. Treating Covid like the flu — or the flu like Covid — has effectively meant that we treat neither illness as if it were a serious threat to health systems and to public health. Mobilizing Department of Defense troops and Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel to cover health system shortfalls is apparently more palatable than asking people to wear masks.

The tripledemic has already claimed its first child deaths in the U.S., adding to a large ongoing death toll from Covid. Allowing health systems to reach the brink of collapse will lead to many more preventable deaths among pediatric and other vulnerable patients who can’t access the care they need.

By any accounting, these losses are shocking and tragic. But they should strike us as particularly abhorrent and shameful because the tripledemic is a crisis that leaders, health agencies, and institutions have, in a sense, chosen. Over the past year, the Biden administration and its allies have repeatedly encouraged the public to stand down on public health measures, with the President even stating in September that “the pandemic is over.” By moving real risks out of view and failing to push for more robust measures to mitigate Covid, these messages have put the country on a path to its present circumstances, in which pediatric RSV patients are transferred to hospitals hundreds of miles away because there is no capacity to treat them in their own communities.

Living with viruses should mean embracing simple public health measures rather than learning to live with staggering levels of illness and death. Leaders in public health and medicine should issue timely and appropriate guidance that reflects the latest science instead of second-guessing the prevailing winds in public opinion. Instead of self-censoring their recommendations out of fear of political consequences, they should continue to promote the full range of public health strategies, including masking in crowded indoor public places during surges.

The tripledemic should bring renewed urgency to policies that will reduce the toll of seasonal illness on health, education, and the economy. Improvements in indoor air quality in public spaces, including schools, child care centers, and workplaces, can limit the spread of diseases and have many demonstrated health and economic benefits, yet the U.S. continues to lack standards to guide infrastructure or workplace safety standards. Paid leave enabling workers to stay home when they are ill can reduce the transmission of disease as well as loss of income, yet the U.S. is one of the only high-income countries without universal paid sick leave or family medical leave.

Greater effort must also be made to increase vaccination coverage for flu and Covid and bring an RSV vaccine online as quickly as possible. Only about half of high-risk adults under 65 received a flu shot last year, a gap that can be closed with more energetic vaccination campaigns. Reducing annual flu deaths using a broader range of strategies enabled by the pandemic — rather than pegging Covid deaths to them — should be the goal.

Amid the many sobering stories of the tripledemic, there is some good news. As the experience of Covid-19 has shown, it is possible to limit the toll of respiratory viruses like flu and RSV. However, this work requires resources, appropriate policies, and political will. Americans don’t need to accept winter disease surges and overrun health systems as an inevitable new normal. Instead, the country should see the tripledemic as a call to reinvigorate public health strategies in response to these threats to the health of our communities.

China’s COVID storm

https://www.axios.com/2022/11/26/china-covid-outbreak-lockdown-economy

A new COVID calamity is hammering China, with a surge in infections prompting a return of lockdowns, including in some manufacturing areas that supply the West.

  • China reported a record number of infections this week, amid lockdowns and mass testing that are fueling unrest and darkening the country’s economic outlook. Schools in Beijing returned to online teaching.

Why it matters: In addition to the human misery for the world’s most populous country, the effects will be felt around the globe, Axios China author Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports from Taipei.

  • Supply chains are likely to be disrupted, causing prices to rise in an already rocky global economy.

Rare protests broke out today in China’s far western Xinjiang region. Crowds shouted at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire triggered anger by prolonged COVID lockdowns, Reuters reports.

  • “End the lockdown!” shouted protesters in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, where an apartment fire killed 10.

What’s happening: The moment of truth for China’s zero-COVID policy has finally come.

  • Either party leaders will need to plunge much of the country into draconian lockdowns, as we saw at the beginning of the pandemic — or they’ll decide it’s time to learn to live with COVID.

Reality check: China’s doctors have warned Xi Jinping that the healthcare system isn’t prepared for the huge outbreak likely to follow the easing of strict anti-COVID measures, the Financial Times reports.

  • Chinese-made vaccines, which don’t use the mRNA technology employed by many produced by the West, aren’t as effective compared to those made in the U.S. And China has worrisomely low vaccination rates among older people.
  • But the number of cases in China is actually still very low for anywhere but China.

The big picture: “Zero COVID” restrictions have damaged the economy and undermined people’s trust in government.

  • That’s a stark about-face from the height of the pandemic. Then, many Chinese people felt the tight central control had protected them better than any other governance model in the world.
  • But it’s that very model that has plunged China into its current predicament. Xi tied his reputation, and the party’s legitimacy, to the success of “zero COVID.”

Between the lines: Chinese leaders made a huge, politically motivated mistake. They resisted the import of Western-made mRNA vaccines (including Pfizer and Moderna) for its citizens. These vaccines were only recently made available to foreigners.

  • That’s likely because of Beijing’s big vaccine diplomacy push: Chinese officials touted their own vaccines as the best and safest.
  • It was politically unpalatable to admit “defeat,” and allow Chinese people to get more effective — but Western-made — jabs.

China faces dilemma in unwinding zero-COVID

https://www.axios.com/2022/11/28/china-dilemma-unwinding-covid-zero

China is facing an increasingly precarious situation as new COVID cases soar and the population seems to be hitting a breaking point with the government’s stringent zero-tolerance policies.

Why it matters: The world’s most populous nation has massive vulnerabilities heading into this winter, starting with the fact the vast majority of its population has yet to be exposed to the virus and has little ‘natural immunity.’

  • China’s vaccines didn’t work well compared to those distributed in the West, and the government refused to approve foreign vaccines and doesn’t have a version to combat Omicron.
  • Vaccine uptake was particularly low among the elderly.
  • And now, public outrage over new COVID lockdown restrictions has fueled rare protests, Axios’ Herb Scribner writes, with residents demanding the government to lift restrictions quickly and some calling for President Xi Jinping’s resignation.

State of play: Overall, China’s number of reported COVID cases and COVID deaths are far lower than other nations, but there have been recent reported spikes in overall numbers of cases and some new deaths.

  • It came after the Chinese government announced some easing of its zero-COVID policy, such as reducing mass testing and quarantine requirements, earlier this month.

Reality check: China’s doctors have warned that the health care system isn’t prepared for the huge outbreak likely to follow any easing of public health measures, Axios’ Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian writes.

  • That includes worries the nation doesn’t have enough ICU bed capacity to handle such outbreaks, according to the Financial Times.

Between the lines: Another concern is the potential evolution of a new, more dangerous variant if there’s a huge surge of infections, Christian Drosten, Germany’s most prominent virologist, told Bloomberg.

  • “Xi Jinping knows very well that he can’t simply let the virus loose,” Drosten said. “The Chinese population first needs to be as well vaccinated as we are.”

Be smart: China’s officials are scrambling to address the vaccine problem.

  • For instance, they are launching more aggressive vaccine drives and limiting movement among at-risk groups, including the elderly, the Washington Post reports.
  • They’ve also approved the use of the first inhaled COVID-19 vaccine in dozens of cities earlier this month in a bid to boost uptake, WSJ reported. Experts have said the vaccine, which was found to stimulate a mucosal response, may create more durable protection against the virus, although more data is needed.
  • But they have yet to open up the availability of mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, opting to focus on their own, per the Post.

The bottom line: China’s zero-COVID policy has kept cases in China relatively low compared to the rest of the world.

  • But even as the societal and economic consequences of shutdowns become apparent, it faces a very difficult path ahead in unwinding strict public health policies.

Covid-19 is surging in Europe. Is America next?

https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2022/10/10/covid-resurgence

While infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from Covid-19 have been steadily declining in the United States in recent months, experts warn that rising cases in Europe may be “a harbinger for what’s about to happen in the United States,” Rob Stein writes for NPR’s “Shots.”

Will the US see a ‘winter resurgence’ of Covid-19?

Currently, several models project that U.S. Covid-19 infections will continue to decline at least until the end of 2022. However, researchers caution that there are multiple variables that could change current projections, including whether more infectious strains start circulating around the nation.

According to Stein, “[t]he first hint of what could be in store is what’s happening in Europe.” Recently, many European countries, including the U.K., France, and Italy, have seen an increase in Covid-19 infections.

“In the past, what’s happened in Europe often has been a harbinger for what’s about to happen in the United States,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “So I think the bottom line message for us in this country is: We have to be prepared for what they are beginning to see in Europe.”

“We look around the world and see countries such as Germany and France are seeing increases as we speak,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin. “That gives me pause. It adds uncertainty about what we can expect in the coming weeks and the coming months.”

However, Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina who helps run the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, noted that the United States may not have the same experience as Europe, largely because it is unclear whether Europe’s increase is related to individuals’ vulnerability to new strains.

“If it is mostly just behavioral changes and climate, we might be able to avoid similar upticks if there is broad uptake of the bivalent vaccine,” Lessler added. “If it is immune escape across several variants with convergent evolution, the outlook for the U.S. may be more concerning.”

Some researchers believe the United States is already experiencing early signs of this. “For example, the levels of virus being detected in wastewater is up in some parts of the country, such in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont and other parts of Northeast,” Stein writes. “That could an early-warning sign of what’s coming, though overall the virus is declining nationally.”

It’s really too early to say something big is happening, but it’s something that we’re keeping an eye on,” said Amy Kirby, national wastewater surveillance program lead at CDC.

According to David Rubin, the director of the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which tracks the pandemic, Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations are already rising in some parts of New England, and other northern regions, including the Pacific Northwest.

“We’re seeing the northern rim of the country beginning to show some evidence of increasing transmission,” Rubin said. “The winter resurgence is beginning.”

How likely is a severe Covid-19 surge?

Unless a “dramatically different new variant emerges,” it is “highly unlikely this year’s surge would get as severe as the last two years in terms of severe disease and deaths,” Stein writes.

“We have a lot more immunity in the population than we did last winter,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, who leads the Pandemic Center at the Brown University School of Public Health.

“Not only have people gotten vaccinated, but a lot of people have now gotten this virus. In fact, some people have gotten it multiple times. And that does build up [immunity] in the population and reduce overall over risk of severe illness,” Nuzzo said.

Another factor that could affect the severity of the impact of rising infections is the number of people who receive updated Covid-19 vaccines, which help boost waning immunity from previous infections or shots.

However, the United States’ booster uptake has been slow. “Nearly 50% of people who are eligible for a booster have not gotten one,” said William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s wild. It’s really crazy.”

Since updated boosters became available in September, less than 8 million of the over 200 million people who are eligible have received one.

According to Nuzzo, it is critical for people to stay up to date on their vaccines, especially with the high likelihood of another Covid-19 surge. “The most important thing that we could do is to take off the table that this virus can cause severe illness and death,” Nuzzo said.

“There are a lot of people who could really benefit from getting boosted but have not done so,” she added.

A Self-Inflicted Wound: The Looming Loss of Coverage

https://www.medpagetoday.com/opinion/second-opinions/101004?trw=no

Millions are about to lose Medicaid while still eligible.

President Biden recently said that the pandemic is “over.” Regardless of how you feel about that statement or his clarification, it is clear that state and federal health policy is and has been moving in the direction of acting as if the pandemic is indeed over. And with that, a big shoe yet to drop looms large — millions of Americans are about to lose their Medicaid coverage, even though many will still be eligible. This amounts to a self-inflicted wound of lost coverage and a potential crisis for access to healthcare, simply because of paperwork.

An August report from HHS estimated that about 15 million Americans will lose either Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage once the federal COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) declaration is allowed to expire. Of these 15 million, 8.2 million are projected to be people who no longer qualify for Medicaid or CHIP — but nearly just as many (6.8 million) will become uninsured despite still being eligible.

Why Is This Happening?

This Medicaid “cliff” will happen because the extra funding states have been receiving under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) since March 2020 was contingent upon keeping everyone enrolled by halting all the bureaucracy that determines whether people are still eligible. Once all the processes to redetermine eligibility resume, the lack of up-to-date contact information, requests for documentation, and other administrative burdens will leave many falling through the cracks. A wrong addressone missed letter, and it all starts to unravel. This will have potentially devastating implications for health.

When Will This Happen?

HHS has said they will provide 60 days’ notice to states before any termination or expiration of the PHE — and they haven’t done so yet. It also seems incredibly unlikely that they would announce an end date for the PHE before the midterm elections, as that would be a major self-inflicted political wound. So, odds are that we are safe until at least January 2023 — but extensions beyond that feel less certain.

What Are States Doing to Prepare?

CMS has issued a slew of guidance over the past year to help states prepare for the end of the PHE and minimize churn, another word for when people lose coverage. Some of this guidance has included ways to work with managed care plans, which deliver benefits to more than 70% of Medicaid enrollees, to obtain up-to-date beneficiary contact information, and methods of conducting outreach and providing support to enrollees during the redetermination process.

However, the end of the PHE and the Medicaid redetermination process will largely be a state-by-state story. Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families has been tracking how states are preparing for the unwinding process. Unsurprisingly, there is considerable variation between states’ plans, outreach efforts, and the types of information accessible to people looking to renew their coverage. For example, less than half of all states have a publicly available plan for how the redetermination process will occur. While CMS has encouraged states to develop plans, they are not required to submit their plans to CMS and there is no public reporting requirement.

Who Will Be Hurt Most?

If you dig into the HHS report, you will see that the disenrollment cliff will likely be a disaster for health equity — as if the inequities of the pandemic itself weren’t enough.majority of those projected to lose coverage are non-white and/or Latinx, making up 52% of those losing coverage because of changes in eligibility and 61% among those losing coverage because of administrative burdens. Only 17% of white non-Latinx are projected to be disenrolled inappropriately, compared to 40% of Black non-Latinx, 51% of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander, and 64% of Latinx people — a very grim picture. This represents a disproportionate burden of coverage loss, when still eligible, among those already bearing inequitable burdens of the pandemic and systemic racism more generally.

Another key population at risk are seniors and people with disabilities who have Medicaid coverage, or those who aren’t part of the Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) population. Under the Affordable Care Act, states are required to redetermine eligibility at renewal using available data. This process, known as ex parte renewal, prevents enrollees from having to respond to, and potentially missing, onerous re-enrollment notifications and forms. Despite federal requirements, not all states attempt to conduct ex parte renewals for seniors and people with disabilities who have Medicaid coverage, or those who aren’t qualifying based on income. Excluding these groups from the ex parte process has important health equity implications, leaving already vulnerable groups more exposed and at risk for having their coverage inappropriately terminated.

What Can Be Done?

There are ways to mitigate some of this coverage loss and ensure people have continued access to care. HHS recently released a proposed rule that would simplify the application for Medicaid by shifting more of the burden of the application and renewal processes onto the government as opposed to those trying to enroll or renew their coverage. We could also change the rules to allow states to use more data, like information collected to verify eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in making renewal decisions, rather than relying so much on income. The Biden administration also made significant investments into navigator organizations, which can help those who are no longer eligible for Medicaid transition to marketplace coverage. Furthermore, states should use this as an opportunity to determine the most effective ways to reach Medicaid enrollees by partnering with researchers to test different communication methods surrounding renewals and redeterminations.

As the federal government and state Medicaid agencies continue to prepare for the end of the PHE, it is critical that they consider who these burdensome processes will affect the most and how to improve them to prevent people from falling through the cracks. More sick Americans without access to care is the last thing we need.

The end of the pandemic “is in sight”

Some good news: The world had its lowest COVID death toll last week since March 2020, the World Health Organization said.

  • The end of the pandemic “is in sight,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
  • But “we are not there yet.”

Zoom out: Last summer’s Delta variant demolished the first sense of relief after vaccines.

  • “If we don’t take this opportunity now, Tedros said while calling for more vaccinations and testing, “we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption and more uncertainty.”

The bottom line: The next surge could come by surprise.

  • Johns Hopkins University is scaling back its COVID metrics due to a slowdown in local data reporting, the university confirmed to Axios.

Travel nurses’ gold rush is over. Now, some are joining other nurses in leaving the profession altogether.


Working as a travel nurse in the early days of the Covid pandemic was emotionally exhausting for Reese Brown — she was forced to leave her young daughter with her family as she moved from one gig to the next, and she watched too many of her intensive care patients die.

“It was a lot of loneliness,” Brown, 30, said. “I’m a single mom, I just wanted to have my daughter, her hugs, and see her face and not just through FaceTime.”

But the money was too good to say no. In July 2020, she had started earning $5,000 or more a week, almost triple her pre-pandemic pay. That was the year the money was so enticing that thousands of hospital staffers quit their jobs and hit the road as travel nurses as the pandemic raged. 

Two years later, the gold rush is over. Brown is home in Louisiana with her daughter and turning down work. The highest paid travel gigs she’s offered are $2,200 weekly, a rate that would have thrilled her pre-pandemic. But after two “traumatic” years of tending to Covid patients, she said, it doesn’t feel worth it.

“I think it’s disgusting because we went from being praised to literally, two years later, our rates dropped,” she said. “People are still sick, and people are still dying.”

The drop in pay doesn’t mean, however, that travel nurses are going to head back to staff jobs. The short-lived travel nurse boom was a temporary fix for a long-term decline in the profession that predates the pandemic. According to a report from McKinsey & Co., the United States may see a shortage of up to 450,000 registered nurses within three years barring aggressive action by health care providers and the government to recruit new people. Nurses are quitting, and hospitals are struggling to field enough staff to cover shifts. 

Nine nurses around the country, including Brown, told NBC News they are considering alternate career paths, studying for advanced degrees or exiting the profession altogether. 

“We’re burned out, tired nurses working for $2,200 a week,” Brown said. People are leaving the field, she said, “because there’s no point in staying in nursing if we’re expendable.”

$124.96 an hour

Travel nursing seems to have started as a profession, industry experts say, in the late 1970s in New Orleans, where hospitals needed to add temporary staff to care for sick tourists during Mardi Gras. In the 1980s and the 1990s, travel nurses were often covering for staff nurses who were on maternity leave, meaning that 13-week contracts become common. 

By 2000, over a hundred agencies provided travel contracts, a number that quadrupled by the end of the decade. It had become a lucrative business for the agencies, given the generous commissions that hospitals pay them. A fee of 40 percent on top of the nurse’s contracted salary is not unheard of, according to a spokesperson for the American Health Care Association, which represents long-term care providers. 

Just before the pandemic, in January 2020, there were about 50,000 travel nurses in the U.S., or about 1.5 percent of the nation’s registered nurses, according to Timothy Landhuis, vice president of research at Staffing Industry Analysts, an industry research firm. That pool doubled in size to at least 100,000 as Covid spread, and he says the actual number at the peak of the pandemic may have far exceeded that estimate.

By 2021, travel nurses were earning an average of $124.96 an hour, according to the research firm — three times the hourly rate of staff nurses, according to federal statistics. 

That year, according to the 2022 National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report from Nursing Solutions Inc., a nurse recruiting firm, the travel pay available to registered nurses contributed to 2.47% of them leaving hospital staff jobs.

But then, as the rate of deaths and hospitalizations from Covid waned, the demand for travel nurses fell hard, according to industry statistics, as did the pay.

Demand dropped 42 percent from January to July this year, according to Aya Healthcare, one of the largest staffing firms in the country. 

That doesn’t mean the travel nurses are going back to staff jobs.

Brown said she’s now thinking about leaving the nursing field altogether and has started her own business. Natalie Smith of Michigan, who became a travel nurse during the pandemic, says she intends to pursue an advanced degree in nursing but possibly outside of bedside nursing.

Pamela Esmond of northern Illinois, who also became a travel nurse during the pandemic, said she’ll keep working as a travel nurse, but only because she needs the money to retire by 65. She’s now 59. 

“The reality is they don’t pay staff nurses enough, and if they would pay staff nurses enough, we wouldn’t have this problem,” she said. “I would love to go back to staff nursing, but on my staff job, I would never be able to retire.” 

The coronavirus exacerbated issues that were already driving health care workers out of their professions, Landhuis said. “A nursing shortage was on the horizon before the pandemic,” he said.

According to this year’s Nursing Solutions staffing report, nurses are exiting the bedside at “an alarming rate” because of rising patient ratios, and their own fatigue and burnout. The average hospital has turned over 100.5% of its workforce in the past five years, according to the report, and the annual turnover rate has now hit 25.9%, exceeding every previous survey. 

There are now more than 203,000 open registered nurse positions nationwide, more than twice the number just before the pandemic in January 2020, according to Aya Healthcare.

An obvious short-term solution would be to keep using travel nurses. Even with salaries falling, however, the cost of hiring them is punishing.

LaNelle Weems, executive director of Mississippi Hospital Association’s Center for Quality and Workforce, said hospitals can’t keep spending like they did during the peak of the pandemic.

“Hospitals cannot sustain paying these exorbitant labor costs,” Weems said. “One nuance that I want to make sure you understand is that what a travel agency charges the hospitals is not what is paid to the nurse.”

Ultimately, it’s the patients who will suffer from the shortage of nurses, whether they are staff or gig workers. 

“Each patient added to a hospital nurse’s workload is associated with a 7%-12% increase in hospital mortality,” said Linda Aiken, founding director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research.

Nurses across the country told NBC News that they chose the profession because they cared about patient safety and wanted to be at the bedside in the first line of care. 

“People say it’s burnout but it’s not,” Esmond said about why nurses are quitting. “It’s the moral injury of watching patients not being taken care of on a day-to-day basis. You just can’t take it anymore.”

Chengdu locks down 21.2 million people as Chinese cities battle Covid-19

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/01/chengdu-locks-down-21point2-million-people-as-chinese-cities-battle-covid-19.html

KEY POINTS

  • One of China’s biggest cities, Chengdu, announced a lockdown of its 21.2 million residents as it launched four days of citywide Covid-19 testing, as some of country’s most populous and economically important urban centers battle outbreaks.
  • All residents in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, were ordered to stay largely at home from 6 p.m. on Thursday, with households allowed to send one person per day to shop for necessities, the city government said in a statement.

The southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chengdu announced a lockdown of its 21.2 million residents as it launched four days of citywide Covid-19 testing, as some of the country’s most populous and economically important cities battle outbreaks.

Residents of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, were ordered to stay home from 6 p.m. on Thursday, with households allowed to send one person per day to shop for necessities, the city government said in a statement.

Chengdu, which reported 157 domestically transmitted infections on Wednesday, is the largest Chinese city to be locked down since Shanghai in April and May. It remained unclear whether the lockdown would be lifted after the mass testing ends on Sunday.

Other major cities including Shenzhen in the south and Dalian in the northeast have also stepped up Covid restrictions this week, ranging from work-from-home requirements to the closure of entertainment businesses in some districts.

The moves curtail the activities of tens of millions of people, intensifying the challenges for China to minimize the economic impact of a “dynamic-zero” Covid policy that has kept China’s borders mostly shut to international visitors and make it an outlier as other countries try to live with the coronavirus.

Most of the curbs are intended to last a few days for now, although two provincial cities in northern China have extended curbs slightly beyond initial promises.

Chengdu’s lockdown sparked panic buying of essentials among residents.

“I am waiting in a very long queue to get in the grocery near my home,” 28-year-old engineer Kya Zhang said, adding that she was worried about access to fresh food if the lockdown is extended.

Hwabao Trust economist Nie Wen said that because Chengdu acted quickly to lock down, it was unlikely to see a repeat of Shanghai’s two-month ordeal.

Non-essential employees in Chengdu were asked to work from home and residents were urged not to leave the city unless needed. Residents who must leave their residential compounds for hospital visits or other special needs must obtain approval from neighborhood staffers.

Industrial firms engaged in important manufacturing and able to manage on closed campuses were exempted from work-from-home requirements.

Sweden’s Volvo Cars said it would temporarily close its Chengdu plant.

Flights to and from Chengdu were dramatically curtailed, according to Flight Master data. At 10 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) on Thursday, it showed 398 flights had been canceled at Shuangliu Airport in Chengdu, with a cancellation rate of 62%. At Chengdu’s Tianfu Airport, 79%, or 725 flights, were canceled.

Shenzhen curbs

In Shenzhen, which has the third-highest economic output among Chinese cities, the most populous district Baoan and tech hub Nanshan suspended large events and indoor entertainment for a few days and ordered stricter checks of digital health credentials for people entering residential compounds.

Nanshan is home to internet giant Tencent and the world’s biggest dronemaker, DJI, among other major Chinese companies.

More than half of Shenzhen’s ten districts, home to over 15 million people, have ordered blanket closure of entertainment venues and halted or reduced restaurant dining for a few days, with curbs in two districts initially planned to be lifted by the end of Thursday.

Shenzhen authorities have largely avoided shutting down offices and factories as they did during a week-long lockdown in March.

Data on Thursday showed that Chinese factory activity contracted for the first time in three months in August amid weakening demand, while power shortages and fresh Covid-19 flare-ups disrupted production.

In Shanghai, schools reopened on Thursday after being closed for months.

Mainland China has reported no Covid death since May, leaving the death toll at 5,226.

Patient acuity is driving up hospital costs, AHA says

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/patient-acuity-driving-hospital-costs-aha-says?mkt_tok=NDIwLVlOQS0yOTIAAAGGiU3xe0NkF9CXkX2TRevw1rc34F0gW3xrh4u01QiSJCzDyJT2rG2TAkJAz344ryPgANhHM9yerPG9lZlib0xHBLXAwqAMIXRTIvQXgJLT

The AHA wants Congress to halt Medicare payment cuts and extend or make permanent certain waivers, among other requests.

The American Hospital Association has released a report on patient acuity that shows hospital patients are sicker and more medically complex than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is driving up hospital costs for labor, drugs and supplies, according to the AHA report. 

Hospital patient acuity, as measured by average length of stay, rose almost 10% between 2019 and 2021, including a 6% increase for non-COVID-19 Medicare patients as the pandemic contributed to delayed and avoided care, the report said. For example, the average length of stay rose 89% for patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 65% for patients with neuroblastoma and adrenal cancer. 

In 2022, patient acuity as reflected in the case mix index rose 11.1% for mastectomy patients, 15% for appendectomy patients and 7% for hysterectomy patients.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Mounting costs, combined with economy-wide inflation and reimbursement shortfalls, are threatening the financial stability of hospitals around the country, according to the AHA report.

The length of stay due to increasing acuity is occurring at a time of significant financial challenges for hospitals and health systems, which have still not received support to address the Delta and Omicron surges that have comprised the majority of all COVID-19 admissions, the AHA said. 

The AHA is asking Congress to halt its Medicare payment cuts to hospitals and other providers; extend or make permanent certain waivers that improve efficiency and access to care; extend expiring health insurance subsidies for millions of patients; and hold commercial insurers accountable for improper and burdensome business practices.

THE LARGER TREND

Hospitals, through the AHA, have long been asking the federal government for relief beyond what’s been allocated in provider relief funds.

In January, the American Hospital Association sought at least $25 billion for hospitals to help combat workforce shortages and labor costs exacerbated by what the AHA called “exorbitant” rates on the part of some staffing agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services released $2 billion in additional funding for hospitals.

In March, the AHA asked Congress to allocate additional provider relief funds beyond the original $175 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services increased what it originally proposed for payment in the Inpatient Prospective Payment system rule. The AHA said the increase was not enough to offset expenses and inflation.