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Abortion Bans Fuel a Rise in High-Risk Patients Heading to Illinois Hospitals

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Kristen Schorsch, WBEZ Chicago
Thu, 14 Sep 2023 09:00:00 +0000

When she was around 22 weeks pregnant, the patient found out that the son she was carrying didn't have kidneys and his lungs wouldn't develop. If he survived the birth, he would struggle to breathe and die within hours.

The patient had a crushing decision to make: continue the pregnancy — which could be a risk to her and her ability to have children in the future — or have an abortion.

“I don't think I stopped crying for an entire two weeks,” she said. “The whole world felt heavy. … It's not something anybody should have to go through. It's not easy losing somebody you love.”

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KFF Health News is not disclosing the woman's name or the name of the community where she lives, because she fears harm if her identity becomes known. She lives in Missouri, which has one of the strictest abortion bans in the nation. KFF Health News confirmed details of her experience.

After the fetal diagnosis, the patient's Missouri doctors told her that her life wasn't in immediate danger, but they also pointed out the risks of carrying the pregnancy to term. And in her family, there's a history of hemorrhaging while giving birth. If she started to bleed, her doctors said, she might lose her uterus, too. The patient said this possibility was devastating. She's a young mom who wants more children.

So she chose to get an abortion. Her Missouri doctors told her it was the safest option — but they wouldn't provide one.

The patient had to leave Missouri and cross the border to Illinois, which has become a legal haven for abortion rights. Because of her complicated pregnancy, she received the abortion in a hospital.

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Since the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, determining who can get an abortion and where has been complicated by medically ambiguous language in new laws that ban or restrict abortion. Doctors in those states fear they could lose their medical licenses or wind up in jail.

Amid these changes, physicians in abortion havens such as Illinois are stepping up to fill the void and provide care to as many patients as possible.

But getting each medically complex patient connected to a doctor and a hospital has been logistically complicated. In response to the growing demand, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, recently launched a state program with a goal to get patients who show up at clinics, yet need a higher level of abortion care, connected more quickly with Illinois hospitals. Providers will call a hotline to reach nurses who will handle the logistics.

There is little concrete data on how many more patients are traveling to other states for abortions at hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks some abortion data regarding out-of-state patients but doesn't collect it based on the type of facility they're performed in.

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Hospitals are a “black box” for abortion-related data, according to Rachel Jones, a longtime researcher at the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

Even before Roe fell, it was hard to wade through the hospital bureaucracy to understand more comprehensively how abortion care was provided, Jones said. Guttmacher has tracked hospital-based abortions in the past but doesn't have updated figures since Dobbs.

#WeCount, widely considered a reliable tracker of shifts in abortion care over the past year, doesn't break out hospital data separately. #WeCount co-chair Ushma Upadhyay said the data would have gaps anyway. She said it's been difficult to get providers in banned states to report what's happening.

The Uncertainties Behind Life Exceptions

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All 15 states that ban abortions do allow exceptions to save the life of the pregnant person, according to tracking from the health policy nonprofit KFF. But exactly when the person's life is considered at risk is open to interpretation.

“It's very, very difficult to get an exception,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy at KFF. “It's like, ‘How imminent is this threat?' And in many cases, patients can't wait until they're about to die before they get an abortion.”

The latest ban — in Indiana — took effect at the end of August.

In 2020, when Roe was still the of the land, only 3% of abortions typically occurred in hospitals. Now, OB-GYNs in Chicago and other places across the U.S. that protect abortion rights say out-of-state patients are increasingly showing up to get abortion care at hospitals.

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Those more complex procedures and hospital stays often bring higher medical bills. More patients now need covering the expensive price tag of the procedures, according to medical providers and abortion funds that provide financial assistance.

The patient from Missouri made her way to Laura Laursen, an OB-GYN at Rush Medical Center in Chicago, in May. The number of out-of-state abortions at Rush has quadrupled since Roe was overturned, Laursen said.

Laursen received the patient's consent to discuss her case with NPR and KFF Health News. She recalled the patient was frustrated about having to jump through so many hoops to get the abortion, and stressed about the cost of being in a hospital.

“The biggest thing was just making space for her to express those emotions,” Laursen said. “Making sure that she felt comfortable with all the decisions she was making. And to make her feel as empowered as possible.”

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The patient's life wasn't immediately threatened, but it was safer for her to have an abortion than remain pregnant, Laursen said.

“I'm constantly hearing stories from my partners across the country of trying to figure out what counts as imminent danger,” Laursen said. “We're trying to prevent danger. We're not trying to get to the point where someone's an emergency.”

Sending Patients Over State Lines for Care

Jennifer McIntosh is an OB-GYN in Milwaukee who specializes in high-risk patients. Because of Wisconsin's abortion ban, she's referring more patients out of state.

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“It's really awful,” McIntosh said, recalling difficult conversations with patients who wanted to be pregnant, but whose babies faced dire outcomes.

She would tell them: “Yes, it's very reasonable to get an abortion. But oh, by the way, it's illegal in your own state. So now on top of this terrible news, I'm going to tell you that you have to figure out how to leave the state to get an abortion.”

In some cases, McIntosh can provide an abortion if the medical risk is significant enough to satisfy Wisconsin's life-of-the-mother exception. But it feels legally risky, she said.

“Am I worried that someone might think that it doesn't satisfy that?” McIntosh said. “Absolutely, that terrifies me.”

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Jonah Fleisher‘s phone is often ringing and buzzing with texts. An OB-GYN who specializes in abortion and contraception at the University of Illinois health system, near Rush hospital in Chicago, Fleisher is frequently asked to see how quickly he can squeeze in another patient from another state.

Since Roe fell, Fleisher estimated, the health system is treating at least three times as many patients who are traveling from other states for abortion care.

He worries about the “invisible” patients who in states with abortion bans and never make it to his hospital. They may have medical problems that complicate their pregnancies yet don't know how to navigate the logistics required to make their way over state lines to his exam room, or don't have the financial resources.

“I know that some number of those women are not going to make it through birth and postpartum,” Fleisher said. “More than the stress of somebody who's actually making it to see me, that's the thing that causes me more stress.”

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Medical costs, in addition to travel, are a big obstacle for high-risk patients seeking abortion care at hospitals. The patient from Missouri owed around $6,000 for her hospital stay, Laursen said. Her bill was covered by local and national abortion funds. Some hospital bills can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars for more complicated procedures, according to the funds.

The Chicago Abortion Fund pledged to cover just over $440,000 in hospital bills for 224 patients in the year following Dobbs, according to Meghan Daniel, CAF's director of services. Those bills were primarily for out-of-state patients. By comparison, in the year that preceded Dobbs, CAF helped cover just over $11,000 for 27 patients.

This increase in patients needing financial help for out-of-state abortion care is happening across the nation.

In many cases, patients have a hard time accessing abortion care, and the delays push them further into their pregnancies until they need to have the procedure in a hospital, said Melissa Fowler, chief program officer at the National Abortion Federation. And that costs much more.

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“We're seeing more cases right now [of] people who are later in gestation,” Fowler said. “More adolescents who are later in gestation, who are showing up at hospitals because this is really their last resort. They've been referred all over.”

All of this raises questions about how long these funds can afford to help.

“The current financial way in which people are paying for their abortions I fear is not sustainable,” Fleisher said.

Nonprofit hospitals could help. In return for getting tax breaks, they have financial assistance policies for people who are uninsured or can't afford their medical bills. But the policy at UI Health in Chicago, for example, covers only Illinois . UI Health spokesperson Jackie Carey said that for other patients, including those who live in other states, the hospital offers discounts if they don't have insurance, or if their insurance won't pay.

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Laursen argues out-of-state plans and insurance companies should be picking up the tab.

“Whose responsibility is this?” she asked.

Not Ready to Let Go

Back in Missouri, the patient has a special room dedicated to her son. She brought home a recording of his heartbeat and keeps his remains in a heart-shaped casket. She talks to her son, tells him how much she loves him.

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“I'm just not ready to let him go,” the patient said. “Even though they're not here on Earth anymore, you still see them in your dreams.”

She's working on healing emotionally and physically. And while she's thankful that she was able to travel to Illinois for care, the experience made her angry with her home state.

“There's a lot of good people out there who go through a lot of unfortunate situations like me who need abortion care,” the patient said. “To have that taken away by the , it just doesn't feel right.”

This article is from a partnership that includes WBEZ, NPR, and KFF Health News.

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——————————
By: Kristen Schorsch, WBEZ Chicago
Title: Abortion Bans Fuel a Rise in High-Risk Patients Heading to Illinois Hospitals
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/hospital-abortions-npr-partnership/
Published Date: Thu, 14 Sep 2023 09:00:00 +0000

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Kaiser Health News

5 Cases of Bird Flu Reported in Colorado Poultry Workers, Doubling This Year’s US Tally

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Amy Maxmen
Mon, 15 Jul 2024 17:26:21 +0000

Five people who work at a poultry farm in northeastern Colorado have tested positive for the bird flu, the Colorado public health department reported July 14. This brings the known number of U.S. cases to nine.

The five people were likely infected by chickens, which they had been tasked with killing in response to a bird flu outbreak at the farm.

More than 99 million chickens and turkeys have been infected with a highly pathogenic strain of the bird flu that emerged at U.S. poultry farms in early 2022. Since then, the federal has compensated poultry farmers more than $1 billion for destroying infected flocks and eggs to keep outbreaks from spreading.

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The H5N1 bird flu virus has spread among poultry farms around the world for nearly 30 years. An estimated 900 people have been infected by birds, and roughly half have died from the disease.

The virus made an unprecedented shift this year to dairy cattle in the U.S. This poses a higher threat because it means the virus has adapted to replicate within cows' cells, which are more like human cells. The four other people diagnosed with bird flu this year in the U.S. worked on dairy farms with outbreaks.

Scientists have warned that the virus could mutate to spread from person to person, like the seasonal flu, and spark a pandemic. There's no sign of that, yet.

So far, all nine cases reported this year have been mild, consisting of eye irritation, a runny nose, and other respiratory symptoms. However, numbers remain too low to say anything certain about the disease because, in general, flu symptoms can vary among people with only a minority needing hospitalization.

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The number of people who have gotten the virus from poultry or cattle may be higher than nine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tested only about 60 people over the past four months, and powerful diagnostic laboratories that typically detect diseases remain barred from testing. Testing of farmworkers and animals is needed to detect the H5N1 bird flu virus, study it, and stop it before it becomes a fixture on farms.

Researchers have urged a more aggressive response from the CDC and other federal agencies to prevent future infections. Many people exposed regularly to livestock and poultry on farms still lack protective gear and education about the disease. And they don't yet have permission to get a bird flu vaccine.

Nearly a dozen virology and outbreak experts recently interviewed by KFF Health News disagree with the CDC's against vaccination, which may prevent bird flu infection and hospitalization.

“We should be doing everything we can to eliminate the chances of dairy and poultry workers contracting this virus,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the of Saskatchewan in Canada. “If this virus is given enough opportunities to jump from cows or poultry into people, it will eventually get better at infecting them.”

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To understand whether cases are going undetected, researchers in Michigan have sent the CDC blood samples from workers on dairy farms. If they detect bird flu antibodies, it's likely that people are more easily infected by cattle than previously believed.

“It's possible that folks may have had symptoms that they didn't feel comfortable , or that their symptoms were so mild that they didn't think they were worth mentioning,” said Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive for the of Michigan.

In hopes of thwarting a potential pandemic, the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and about a dozen other countries are stockpiling millions of doses of a bird flu vaccine made by the vaccine company CSL Seqirus.

Seqirus' most recent formulation was greenlighted last year by the European equivalent of the FDA, and an earlier version has the FDA's approval. In June, Finland decided to offer vaccines to people who work on fur farms as a precaution because its mink and fox farms were hit by bird flu last year.

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The CDC has controversially decided not to offer at-risk groups bird flu vaccines. Demetre Daskalakis, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told KFF that the agency is not recommending a vaccine campaign at this point for several reasons, even though millions of doses are available. One is that cases still appear to be limited, and the virus isn't spreading rapidly between people as they sneeze and breathe.

The agency continues to rate the public's risk as low. In a statement posted in response to the new Colorado cases, the CDC said its bird flu recommendations remain the same: “An assessment of these cases will help inform whether this situation warrants a change to the human health risk assessment.”

——————————
By: Amy Maxmen
Title: 5 Cases of Bird Flu Reported in Colorado Poultry Workers, Doubling This Year's US Tally
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/five-bird-flu-cases-colorado-poultry-workers-virus-spread/
Published Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2024 17:26:21 +0000

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California Health Care Pioneer Goes National, Girds for Partisan Skirmishes

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Samantha Young
Mon, 15 Jul 2024 09:00:00 +0000

SACRAMENTO — When then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for nearly all Californians to buy insurance or face a penalty, Anthony Wright slammed the 2007 proposal as “unwarranted, unworkable, and unwise” — one that would punish those who could least afford coverage. The head of Health Access California, one of the state's most influential consumer groups, changed course only after he and his allies extracted a deal to increase subsidies for people in need.

The plan was ultimately blocked by Democrats who wanted the state to adopt a single-payer health care system instead. Yet the moment encapsulates classic Anthony Wright: independent-minded and willing to compromise if it could help Californians healthier lives without going broke.

This summer, Wright will assume the helm of the health consumer group Families USA, taking his campaign for more affordable and accessible health care to the national level and a deeply divided Congress. In his 23 years in Sacramento, Wright has successfully lobbied to outlaw surprise medical billing, require companies to drug price increases, and cap hospital bills for uninsured — policies that have spread nationwide.

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“He pushed the envelope and gave people aspirational leadership,” said Jennifer Kent, who served as Schwarzenegger's head of the Department of Health Care Services, which administers the state Medicaid program. The two were often on opposing sides on health policy issues. “There was always, like, one more thing, one more goal, one more thing to achieve.”

Recently, Wright co-led a coalition of labor and immigrant rights activists to provide comprehensive Medicaid to all eligible California residents regardless of immigration status. The state funds this coverage because the federal government doesn't allow it.

His wins have come mostly under Democratic governors and legislatures and when Republican hasn't been needed. That will not be the case in Washington, D.C., where Republicans currently control the House and the Senate Democratic Caucus has a razor-thin majority, which has made it extremely difficult to pass substantive legislation. November's elections are not expected to ease the partisan impasse.

Though both Health Access and Families USA are technically nonpartisan, they tend to align with Democrats and lobby for Democratic policies, abortion rights. But “Anthony doesn't just talk to his own people,” said David Panush, a veteran Sacramento health policy consultant. “He has an ability to connect with people who don't agree with you on everything.”

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Wright, who interned for Vice President Al Gore and worked as a consumer advocate at the Federal Communications Commission in his 20s, acknowledges his job will be tougher in the nation's capital, and said he is “wide-eyed about the dysfunction” there. He said he also plans to work directly with state lawmakers, including encouraging those in the 10, mostly Republican states that have not yet expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to do so.

In an interview with California Healthline senior correspondent Samantha Young, Wright, 53, discussed his accomplishments in Sacramento and the challenges he will face leading a national consumer advocacy group. His remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Is there something California has done that you'd like to see other states or the federal government adopt?

Just saying “We did this in California” is not going to get me very far in 49 other states. But stuff that has already gone national, like the additional assistance to buy health care coverage with state subsidies, that became something that was a model for what the federal government did in the American Rescue Plan [Act] and the Reduction Act. Those additional tax credits have had a huge impact. About 5 million Americans have coverage because of them. Yet, those additional tax credits expire in 2025. If those tax credits expire, the average premium will spike $400 a month.

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Q: You said you will find yourself playing defense if former President Donald Trump is elected in November. What do you mean?

Our health is on the ballot. I worry about the Affordable Care Act and the protections for preexisting conditions, the help for people to afford coverage, and all the other consumer patient protections. I think reproductive health is obviously front and center, but that's not the only thing that could be taken away. It could also be something like Medicare's authority to negotiate prices on prescription drugs.

Q: But Trump has said he doesn't want to repeal the ACA this time, rather “make it better.”

We just need to look at the record of what was proposed during his first term, which would have left millions more people uninsured, which would have spiked premiums, which would have gotten rid of key patient protections.

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Q: What's on your agenda if President Joe Biden wins reelection?

It partially depends on the makeup of Congress and other elected officials. Do you extend this guarantee that nobody has to spend more than 8.5% of their income on coverage? Are there benefits that we can actually improve in Medicare and Medicaid with regard to vision and dental? What are the cost drivers in our health system?

There is a lot we can do at both the state and the federal level to get people both access to health care and also financial security, so that their health emergency doesn't become a financial emergency as well.

Q: Will it be harder to get things done in a polarized Washington?

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The dysfunction of D.C. is a real thing. I don't have delusions that I have any special powers, but we will try to do our best to make progress. There are still very stark differences, whether it's about the Affordable Care Act or, more broadly, about the social safety net. But there's always opportunities for advancing an agenda.

There could be a lot of common ground on areas like health care costs and having greater oversight and accountability for quality in cost and quality in value, for fixing market failures in our health system.

Q: What would happen in California if the ACA were repealed?

When there was the big threat to the ACA, a lot of people thought, “Can't California just do its own thing?” Without the tens of billions of dollars that the Affordable Care Act provides, it would have been very hard to sustain. If you get rid of those subsidies, and 5 million Californians lose their coverage, it becomes a smaller and sicker risk pool. Then premiums spike up for everybody, and, basically, the market becomes a death spiral that will nobody, healthy or sick.

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Q: California expanded Medicaid to qualified immigrants living in the state without authorization. Do you think that could happen at the federal level?

Not at the moment. I would probably be more focused on the states that are not providing Medicaid to American citizens [who] just happen to be low-income. They are turning away precious dollars that are available for them.

Q: What do you take away from your time at Health Access that will help you in Washington?

It's very rare that anything of consequence is done in a year. In many cases, we've had to run a bill or pursue a policy for multiple years or sessions. So, the power of persistence is that if you never give up, you're never defeated, only delayed. Prescription drug price transparency took three years, surprise medical bills took three years, the hospital fair-pricing act took five years.

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Having a coalition of consumer voices is important. Patients and the public are not just another stakeholder. Patients and the public are the point of the health care system.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

——————————
By: Samantha Young
Title: California Health Care Pioneer Goes National, Girds for Partisan Skirmishes
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org//article/anthony-wright-qa-families-usa-health-policy/
Published Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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States Set Minimum Staffing Levels for Nursing Homes. Residents Suffer When Rules Are Ignored or Waived.

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Jordan Rau, KFF Health
Fri, 12 Jul 2024 09:45:00 +0000

For hours, John Pernorio repeatedly mashed the call button at his bedside in the Heritage Hills nursing home in Rhode Island. A retired truck driver, he had injured his spine in a fall on the job decades earlier and could no longer walk. The antibiotics he was taking made him need to go to the bathroom frequently. But he could get there only if someone helped him into his wheelchair.

By the time an aide finally responded, he'd been lying in soiled briefs for hours, he said. It happened time and again.

“It was degrading,” said Pernorio, 79. “I spent 21 hours a day in bed.”

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Payroll records show that during his stay at Heritage Hills, daily aide staffing levels were 25% below the minimums under state law. The nursing home said it provided high-quality care to all residents. Regardless, it wasn't in trouble with the state, because Rhode Island does not enforce its staffing rule.

An acute shortage of nurses and aides in the nation's nearly 15,000 nursing homes is at the root of many of the most disturbing shortfalls in care for the 1.2 million Americans who live in them, including many of the nation's frailest old people.

They get festering bedsores because they aren't turned. They lie in feces because no one comes to attend to them. They have devastating falls because no one helps them get around. They are subjected to chemical and physical restraints to sedate and pacify them.

California, Florida, , New York, and Rhode Island have sought to improve nursing home quality by mandating the highest minimum hours of care per resident among states. But an examination of records in those states revealed that putting a law on the books was no guarantee of better staffing. Instead, many nursing homes operated with fewer workers than required, often with the permission of regulators or with no consequences at all.

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“Just setting a number doesn't mean anything if you're not going to enforce it,” said Mark Miller, former president of the national organization of long-term care ombudsmen, advocates in each state who help residents resolve problems in their nursing homes. “What's the point?”

Now the Biden administration is to guarantee adequate staffing the same way states have, unsuccessfully, for years: with tougher standards. Federal rules issued in April are expected to require 4 out of 5 homes to boost staffing.

The administration's plan also has some of the same weaknesses that have hampered states. It relies on underfunded health inspectors for enforcement, lacks explicit penalties for violations, and offers broad exemptions for nursing homes in with labor shortages. And the administration isn't providing more money for homes that can't afford additional employees.

Serious health violations have become more widespread since swept through nursing homes, killing more than 170,000 residents and driving employees out the door.

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Pay remains so low — nursing assistants earn $19 an hour on average — that homes frequently lose workers to retail stores and fast-food restaurants that pay as well or better and offer that are far less grueling. Average turnover in nursing homes is extraordinarily high: Federal records show half of employees leave their jobs each year.

Even the most passionate nurses and aides are burning out in short-staffed homes because they are stretched too thin to provide the quality care they believe residents deserve. “It was impossible,” said Shirley Lomba, a medication aide from Providence, Rhode Island. She left her job at a nursing home that paid $18.50 an hour for one at an assisted living facility that paid $4 more per hour and involved residents with fewer needs.

The mostly for-profit nursing home industry argues that staffing problems stem from low rates of reimbursement by , the program funded by states and the federal government that covers most people in nursing homes. Yet a growing body of research and court evidence shows that owners and investors often extract hefty profits that could be used for care.

Nursing home trade groups have complained about the tougher state standards and have sued to block the new federal standards, which they say are unworkable given how much trouble nursing homes already have filling jobs. “It's a really tough business right now,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive of one trade group, the American Health Care Association.

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And federal enforcement of those rules is still years off. Nursing homes have as long as five years to comply with the new regulations; for some, that means enforcement would fully kick in only at the tail end of a second Biden administration, if the president wins reelection. Former President Donald Trump's campaign declined to comment on what Trump would do if elected.

Persistent Shortages

Nursing home payroll records submitted to the federal government for the most recent quarter available, October to December 2023, and state regulatory records show that homes in states with tougher standards frequently did not meet them.

In more than two-thirds of nursing homes in New York and more than half of those in Massachusetts, staffing was below the state's required minimums. Even California, which passed the nation's first minimum staffing law two decades ago, has not achieved universal compliance with its requirements: at least 3½ hours of care for the average resident each day, including two hours and 24 minutes of care from nursing assistants, who help residents eat and get to the bathroom.

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During inspections since 2021, state regulators cited a third of California homes — more than 400 of them — for inadequate staffing. Regulators also granted waivers to 236 homes that said workforce shortages prevented them from recruiting enough nurse aides to meet the state minimum, exempting them from fines as high as $50,000.

In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul declared an acute labor shortage, which allows homes to petition for reduced or waived fines. The state health department said it had cited more than 400 of the state's 600-odd homes for understaffing but declined to say how many of them had appealed for leniency.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation in 2022 to loosen the staffing rules for all homes. The law allows homes to count almost any employee who engages with residents, instead of just nurses and aides, toward their overall staffing. Florida also reduced the daily minimum of nurse aide time for each resident by 30 minutes, to two hours.

Now only 1 in 20 Florida nursing homes are staffed below the minimum — but if the former, more rigorous rules were still in place, 4 in 5 homes would not meet them, an analysis of payroll records shows.

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“Staffing is the most important part of providing high-quality nursing home care,” said David Stevenson, chair of the health policy department at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “It comes down to political will to enforce staffing.”

The Human Toll

There is a yawning gap between law and practice in Rhode Island. In the last three months of 2023, only 12 of 74 homes met the state's minimum of three hours and 49 minutes of care per resident, including at least two hours and 36 minutes of care from certified nursing assistants, payroll records show. One of the homes below the minimum was Heritage Hills Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Smithfield, where Pernorio, president of the Rhode Island Alliance for Retired Americans, went last October after a stint in a hospital.

“From the minute the ambulance took me in there, it was downhill,” he said in an interview.

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Sometimes, after waiting an hour, he would telephone the home's main office for help. A nurse would come, turn off his call light, and walk right back out, and he would push the button again, Pernorio reported in his weekly e-newsletter.

While he praised some workers' dedication, he said others frequently did not show up for their shifts. He said staff members told him they could earn more flipping hamburgers at McDonald's than they could cleaning soiled patients in a nursing home.

In a written statement, Heritage Hills did not dispute that its staffing, while higher than that of many homes, was below the minimum under state law.

Heritage Hills said that after Pernorio complained, state inspectors visited the home and did not cite it for violations. “We take every resident concern seriously,” it said in the statement. Pernorio said inspectors never interviewed him after he called in his complaint.

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In interviews, residents of other nursing homes in the state and their relatives reported neglect by overwhelmed nurses and aides.

Jason Travers said his 87-year-old father, George, fell on the way to the bathroom because no one answered his call button.

“I think the lunch crew finally came in and saw him on the floor and put him in the bed,” Travers said. His father died in April 2023, four months after he entered the home.

Relatives of Mary DiBiasio, 92, who had a hip fracture, said they once found her sitting on the toilet unattended, hanging on to the grab bar with both hands. “I don't need to be a medical professional to know you don't leave somebody hanging off the toilet with a hip fracture,” said her granddaughter Keri Rossi-D'entremont.

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When DiBiasio died in January 2022, Rhode Island was preparing to enact a law with nurse and aide staffing requirements higher than anywhere else in the country except Washington, D.C. But Gov. Daniel McKee suspended enforcement, saying the industry was in poor financial shape and nursing homes couldn't even fill existing jobs. The governor's executive order noted that several homes had closed because of problems finding workers.

Yet Rhode Island inspectors continue to find serious problems with care. Since January 2023, regulators have found deficiencies of the highest severity, known as immediate jeopardy, at 23 of the state's 74 nursing homes.

Homes have been cited for failing to get a dialysis patient to treatment and for giving one resident a roommate's methadone, causing an overdose. They have also been cited for violent behavior by unsupervised residents, including one who shoved pillow stuffing into a resident's mouth and another who turned a roommate's oxygen off because it was too noisy. Both the resident who was attacked and the one who lost oxygen died.

Bottom Lines

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Even some of the nonprofit nursing homes, which don't have to pay investors, are having trouble meeting the state minimums — or simply staying open.

Rick Gamache, chief executive of the nonprofit Aldersbridge Communities, which owns Linn Health & Rehabilitation in East Providence, said Rhode Island's Medicaid program paid too little for the home to keep operating — about $292 per bed, when the daily cost was $411. Aldersbridge closed Linn this summer and converted it into an assisted living facility.

“We're seeing the collapse of post-acute care in America,” Gamache said.

Many nursing homes are owned by for-profit chains, and some researchers, lawyers, and state authorities argue that they could reinvest more of the money they make into their facilities.

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Bannister Center, a Providence nursing home that payroll records show is staffed 10% below the state minimum, is part of Centers Health Care, a New York-based private chain that owns or operates 31 skilled nursing homes, according to Medicare records. Bannister lost $430,524 in 2021, according to a financial statement it filed with Rhode Island regulators.

Last year, the New York attorney general sued the chain's owners and investors and their relatives, accusing them of improperly siphoning $83 million in Medicaid funds out of their New York nursing homes by paying salaries for “no-show” jobs, profits above what state law allowed, and inflated rents and fees to other companies they owned. For instance, one of those companies, which purported to provide staff to the homes, paid $5 million to the wife of Kenny Rozenberg, the chain's chief executive, from 2019 to 2021, the said.

The defendants argued in court papers that the payments to investors and owners were legal and that the state could not prove they were Medicaid funds. They have asked for much of the lawsuit to be dismissed.

Jeff Jacomowitz, a Centers Health Care spokesperson, declined to answer questions about Bannister, Centers' operations, or the chain's owners.

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Miller, the District of Columbia's long-term care ombudsman, said many nursing home owners could pay better wages if they didn't demand such high profits. In D.C., 7 in 10 nursing homes meet minimum standards, payroll records show.

“There's no staffing shortage — there's a shortage of good-paying jobs,” he said. “I've been doing this since 1984 and they've been going broke all the time. If it really is that bad of an investment, there wouldn't be any nursing homes left.”

The new federal rules call for a minimum of three hours and 29 minutes of care each day per resident, including two hours and 27 minutes from nurse aides and 33 minutes from registered nurses, and an RN on-site at all times.

Homes in areas with worker shortages can apply to be exempted from the rules. Dora Hughes, acting chief medical officer for the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a statement that those waivers would be “time-limited” and that having a clear national staffing minimum “will facilitate strengthened oversight and enforcement.”

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David Grabowski, a health policy professor at Harvard Medical School, said federal health authorities have a “terrible” track record of policing nursing homes. “If they don't enforce this,” he said, “I don't imagine it's going to really move the needle a lot.”

Methodology for Analysis of Nursing Home Staffing

The KFF Health News data analysis focused on five states with the most rigorous staffing requirements: California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.

To determine staffing levels, the analysis used the daily payroll journals that each nursing home is required to submit to the federal government. These publicly available records include the number of hours each category of nursing home employee, including registered nurses and certified nursing assistants, worked each day and the number of residents in each home. We used the most recent data, which included a combined 1.3 million records covering the final three months of 2023.

We calculated staffing levels by each state's rules, which specify which occupations are counted and what minimums homes must meet. The analysis differed for each state. Massachusetts, for instance, has a separate requirement for the minimum number of hours of care registered nurses must provide each day.

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In California, we used state enforcement action records to identify homes that had been fined for not meeting its law. We also tallied how many California homes had been granted waivers from the law because they couldn't find enough workers to hire.

For each state and Washington, D.C., we calculated what proportion of homes complied with state or district law. We shared our conclusions with each state's nursing home regulatory agency and gave them an to respond.

This analysis was performed by senior correspondent Jordan Rau and data editor Holly K. Hacker.

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By: Jordan Rau, KFF Health News
Title: States Set Minimum Staffing Levels for Nursing Homes. Residents Suffer When Rules Are Ignored or Waived.
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/nursing-home-minimum-staffing-state-laws-enforcement-residents-suffer/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2024 09:45:00 +0000

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