In talking to our health system members from across the country in the past few weeks, we’ve heard that the COVID surge is happening everywhere. Nearly everyone we’ve talked to has told us that their inpatient census of COVID patients is as high or higher now than during the initial wave of the pandemic in March and April. And nearly everyone is expecting it to get much worse over the next few weeks, as hospitalizations increase in the wake of the explosion of cases we’re seeing now.
But there is something striking in our conversations in comparison to eight months ago: no one seems to be panicking. Crisis management processes that were developed and honed early in the pandemic are proving very helpful now. Normal patient care services are continuing despite the uptick in COVID volume, and protections are in place to keep the care environment segregated and COVID-free as possible.
While dozens of health systems, many in the hardest hit states in the Midwest and Great Plains, have announced plans to curtail elective care during this third wave, the decisions are based on individual hospital capacity and staffing, instead of being mandated by states. Having largely worked through the “COVID backlog” across the summer and early fall, system leaders want to avoid canceling surgeries again, and few are expecting state governments to force them to.
Many of our members have drawn up plans for selective cancellations depending on capacity, but we’re not likely to see sweeping shutdowns again—unless the workforce becomes so overstretched that it impacts operations.
That’s good news, and will likely lead to less interrupted patient care. And it’s good news for hospitals’ and doctors’ economic survival, as many would not be able to absorb the body blow of another widespread shutdown. Fingers crossed.
Congress is expected to pass a major $8.3 billion spending package to help providers and local governments handle the spread of the coronavirus and to boost the development of vaccines and tests of the virus.
Here are key parts of the spending package released Wednesday:
$500 million for an emergency telehealth waiver. The bill would waive certain Medicare restrictions for telehealth, including that a Medicare beneficiary can use telehealth services even if they aren’t in a rural community. “This provision would also allow beneficiaries to receive care from physicians and other practitioners in their homes,” a summary of the package said;
$2.2 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help state and local health agencies. The funding would include a provision to reimburse state or local costs for coronavirus response and preparedness activities from Jan. 20 to the end of this supplemental;
Nearly $1 billion to buy drugs and medical supplies. This procurement will include $500 million for drugs, masks and personal protective equipment that can be distributed to state and local health agencies in areas that are in shortage. It also includes funding for increasing the supply of biocontainment beds, which are secured areas used for patients with highly contagious diseases; and
More than $3 billion to support the research and development of vaccines, diagnostics and other treatments for the coronavirus. Any vaccine or diagnostic developed via taxpayer funds must also “be available for purchase by the federal government at a fair and reasonable price,” the summary said. The bill also enables the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure any vaccine or diagnostic can be affordable in the commercial market, but doesn’t elaborate on how.
The package sailed through the House on Wednesday and could be taken up quickly by the Senate.
Provider groups bracing for a coronavirus outbreak praised the spending package.
“This bill will provide essential assistance to caregivers and communities on the front lines of this battle,” said Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, in a statement.