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GoFundMe Has Become a Health Care Utility

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Elisabeth Rosenthal
Mon, 12 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

GoFundMe started as a crowdfunding site for underwriting “ideas and dreams,” and, as GoFundMe's co-, Andrew Ballester and Brad Damphousse, once put it, “for life's important moments.” In the early years, it funded honeymoon trips, graduation gifts, and church missions to overseas hospitals in need. Now GoFundMe has become a go-to platform for patients to escape medical billing nightmares.

One study found that, in 2020, the annual number of U.S. campaigns related to medical causes — about 200,000 — was 25 times the number of such campaigns on the site in 2011. More than 500 current campaigns are dedicated to asking for financial help for treating people, mostly kids, who have spinal muscular atrophy, a neurodegenerative genetic condition. The recently approved gene therapy for young children with the condition, by the drugmaker Novartis, has a price tag of about $2.1 million for the single-dose treatment.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of this is that paying for expensive care with crowdfunding is no longer seen as unusual; instead, it is being normalized as part of the health system, like getting bloodwork done or waiting on hold for an appointment. Need a heart transplant? Start a GoFundMe to get on the waiting list. Resorting to GoFundMe when faced with bills has become so accepted that, in some cases, patient advocates and hospital financial aid recommend crowdfunding as an alternative to being sent to collections. My inbox and the “Bill of the Month” project (a collaboration by KFF Health News and NPR) have become a kind of complaint desk for people who can't afford their medical bills, and I'm gobsmacked every time a patient tells me they've been advised that GoFundMe is their best option.

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GoFundMe acknowledges the reliance of patients on its platform. Ari Romio, a spokesperson for the company, said that “medical expenses” is the most common category of fundraiser it hosts. But she declined to say what proportion of campaigns are medically related, because people starting a campaign self-select the purpose of the fundraiser. They might choose the family or travel category, she said, if a child needs to go to a different state for treatment, for example. So although the company has estimated in the past that roughly a third of the funds raised on the site are related to costs for illness or injury, that could be an undercount.

Andrea Coy of Fort Collins, Colorado, turned to GoFundMe in 2021 as a last resort after an -ambulance bill tipped her family's finances over the edge. Sebastian, her son who was then a year old, had been admitted with pneumonia to a local hospital and then transferred urgently by helicopter to Children's Hospital Colorado in Denver when his oxygen levels dropped. REACH, the air-ambulance transport company that contracted with the hospital, was out-of-network and billed the family nearly $65,000 for the ride — more than $28,000 of which Coy's insurer, UnitedHealthcare, paid. Even so, REACH continued sending Coy's family bills for the balance, and later began regularly calling Coy to try to collect — enough so that she felt the company was harassing her, she told me.

Coy made calls to her company's human resources department, REACH, and UnitedHealthcare for help in resolving the case. She applied to various patient groups for financial assistance and was rejected again and again. Eventually, she got the outstanding balance knocked down to $5,000, but even that was more than she could afford on top of the $12,000 the family owed out-of-pocket for Sebastian's actual treatment.

That's when a hospital financial aid officer suggested she try GoFundMe. But, as Coy said, “I'm not an influencer or anything like that,” so the appeal “offered only a bit of temporary relief — we've hit a wall.” They have gone deep into debt and hope to climb out of it.

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In an emailed response, a spokesperson for REACH noted that they could not comment on a specific case because of patient-privacy laws, but that, if the ambulance ride occurred before the federal No Surprises Act went into effect, the bill was legal. (That act protects patients from such air-ambulance bills and has been in force since Jan. 1, 2022.) But the spokesperson added, “If a patient is experiencing a financial hardship, we work with them to find equitable .” What is “equitable” — and whether that includes seeking an additional $5,000, beyond a $28,000 insurance payment, for transporting a sick child — is subjective, of course.

In many respects, research shows, GoFundMe tends to perpetuate socioeconomic disparities that already affect medical bills and debt. If you are famous or part of a circle of friends who have money, your crowdfunding campaign is much more likely to succeed than if you are middle-class or poor. When the family of the former Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton started a fundraiser on another platform, *spotfund, for her recent stay in the intensive care unit while uninsured, nearly $460,000 in donations quickly poured in. (Although Retton said she could not get affordable insurance because of a preexisting condition — dozens of orthopedic surgeries — the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from refusing to cover people because of their medical history, or charging them abnormally high rates.)

And given the price of American health care, even the most robust fundraising can feel inadequate. If you're looking for help to pay for a $2 million drug, even tens of thousands can be a drop in the bucket.

Rob Solomon, CEO of GoFundMe from 2015 to March 2020, who in 2018 was named one of Time magazine's 50 most influential people in health care, has said that he “would love nothing more than for ‘medical' to not be a category on GoFundMe.” He told KFF Health News that “the system is terrible. It needs to be rethought and retooled. Politicians are failing us. Health care companies are failing us. Those are realities.”

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Despite the noble ambitions of its original vision, however, GoFundMe is a privately held for-profit company. In 2015, the founders sold a majority stake to a venture-capital investor group led by Accel Partners and Technology Crossover Ventures. And when I asked about medical bills being the most common reason for GoFundMe campaigns, the company's current CEO, Tim Cadogan, sounded less critical than his predecessor of the health system, whose high prices and financial cruelty have arguably made his company famous.

“Our mission is to help people help each other,” he said. “We are not, and cannot, be the solution to complex, systemic problems that are best solved with meaningful public policy.”

And that's true. Despite the site's hopeful vibe, most campaigns generate only a small fraction of the money owed. Most medical-expense campaigns in the U.S. fell short of their goal, and some raised little or no money, a 2017 study from the of Washington found. Campaigns made an average of about 40% of the target amount, and there is evidence that yields — measured as a percentage of their targets — have worsened over time.

Carol Justice, a recently retired civil servant and a longtime union member in Portland, Oregon, turned to GoFundMe because she faced a mammoth unexpected bill for bariatric surgery at Oregon Health & Science University.

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She had expected to pay about $1,000, the amount left of her deductible, after her health insurer paid the $15,000 cap on the surgery. She didn't understand that a cap meant she would have to pay the difference if the hospital, which was in-network, charged more.

And it did, leaving her with a bill of $18,000, to be paid all at once or in monthly $1,400 increments, which were “more than my mortgage,” she said. “I was facing filing for bankruptcy or losing my car and my house.” She made numerous calls to the hospital's financial aid office, many unanswered, and received only unfulfilled promises that “we'll get back to you” about whether she qualified for help.

So, Justice said, her health coach — provided by the of Portland — suggested starting a GoFundMe. The campaign yielded about $1,400, just one monthly payment, $200 from the health coach and $100 from an aunt. She dutifully sent each donation directly to the hospital.

In an emailed response, the hospital system said that it couldn't discuss individual cases but that “financial assistance information is readily available for patients, and can be accessed at any point in a patient's journey with OHSU. Starting in early 2019, OHSU worked to remove barriers for patients most in need by providing a quick screening for financial assistance that, if a certain threshold is met, financial assistance without requiring an application .”

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This tale has a happy-ish ending. In desperation, Justice went to the hospital and planted herself in the financial aid office, where she had a tearful meeting with a hospital representative who determined that — given her finances — she wouldn't have to pay the bill.

“I'd been through the gamut and just cried,” she said. She said she would like to repay the people who donated to her GoFundMe campaign. But, so far, the hospital won't give the $1,400 back.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.

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——————————
By: Elisabeth Rosenthal
Title: GoFundMe Has Become a Health Care Utility
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/gofundme-health-care-funding-hospitals-surprise-bills/
Published Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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 health 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 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 . In his 23 years in Sacramento, Wright has successfully lobbied to outlaw surprise medical billing, require companies to report drug price increases, and cap hospital bills for uninsured patients — 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 benefits to all eligible California 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 support 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, including 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 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 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 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

Did you miss our previous article…
https://www.biloxinewsevents.com/states-set-minimum-staffing-levels-for-nursing-homes-residents-suffer-when-rules-are-ignored-or-waived/

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Kaiser Health News

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

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Jordan Rau, KFF
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 . 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 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, Massachusetts, 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 trying 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 areas 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 jobs that are far less grueling. Average turnover in nursing homes is extraordinarily high: Federal records show half of employees 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 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 Medicaid, the program funded by states and the federal 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 & 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 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 lawsuit 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 following 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 opportunity 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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