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How a Friend’s Death Turned Colorado Teens Into Anti-Overdose Activists

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Rae Ellen Bichell
Fri, 01 Mar 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Gavinn McKinney loved Nike shoes, fireworks, and sushi. He was studying Potawatomi, one of the languages of his Native American heritage. He loved holding his niece and smelling her baby smell. On his 15th birthday, the Durango, Colorado, teen spent a cold December afternoon chopping wood to neighbors who couldn't afford to heat their homes.

McKinney almost made it to his 16th birthday. He died of fentanyl poisoning at a friend's house in December 2021. His friends say it was the first time he tried hard drugs. The memorial service was so packed people had to stand outside the funeral home.

Now, his peers are to cement their friend's legacy in state law. They recently testified to state lawmakers in of a bill they helped write to ensure students can carry naloxone with them at all times without fear of discipline or confiscation. School districts tend to have strict medication policies. Without special permission, Colorado students can't even carry their own emergency medications, such as an inhaler, and they are not to share them with others.

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“We realized we could actually make a change if we put our hearts to it,” said Niko Peterson, a senior at Animas High School in Durango and one of McKinney's friends who helped write the bill. “Being proactive versus being reactive is going to be the best possible solution.”

Individual school districts or counties in California, Maryland, and elsewhere have rules expressly allowing high school students to carry naloxone. But Jon Woodruff, managing attorney at the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association, said he wasn't aware of any statewide law such as the one Colorado is considering. Woodruff's Washington, D.C.-based organization researches and drafts legislation on substance use.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that can halt an overdose. Available over the counter as a nasal spray, it is considered the fire extinguisher of the opioid epidemic, for use in an emergency, but just one tool in a prevention strategy. (People often refer to it as “Narcan,” one of the more recognizable brand names, similar to how tissues, regardless of brand, are often called “Kleenex.”)

The Biden administration last year backed an campaign encouraging young people to carry the emergency medication.

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Most states' naloxone access laws protect do-gooders, including youth, from liability if they accidentally harm someone while administering naloxone. But without school policies explicitly allowing it, the students' ability to bring naloxone to class falls into a gray area.

Ryan Christoff said that in September 2022 fellow staff at Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Colorado, where he worked and which one of his daughters attended at the time, confiscated naloxone from one of her classmates.

“She didn't have anything on her other than the Narcan, and they took it away from her,” said Christoff, who had provided the confiscated Narcan to that student and many others after his daughter nearly died from fentanyl poisoning. “We should want every student to carry it.”

Boulder Valley School District spokesperson Randy Barber said the incident “was a one-off and we've done some work since to make sure nurses are aware.” The district now encourages everyone to consider carrying naloxone, he said.

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Community's Devastation Turns to Action

In Durango, McKinney's death hit the community hard. McKinney's friends and said he didn't do hard drugs. The substance he was hooked on was Tapatío hot sauce — he even brought some in his pocket to a Rockies game.

After McKinney died, people started getting tattoos of the phrase he was known for, which was emblazoned on his favorite sweatshirt: “Love is the cure.” Even a few of his teachers got them. But it was classmates, along with their friends at another high school in town, who turned his loss into a political movement.

“We're making things happen on behalf of him,” Peterson said.

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The mortality rate has spiked in recent years, with more than 1,500 other children and teens in the U.S. dying of fentanyl poisoning the same year as McKinney. Most youth who die of overdoses have no known history of taking opioids, and many of them likely thought they were taking prescription opioids like OxyContin or Percocet — not the fake prescription pills that increasingly carry a lethal dose of fentanyl.

“Most likely the largest group of teens that are dying are really teens that are experimenting, as opposed to teens that have a long-standing opioid use disorder,” said Joseph Friedman, a substance use researcher at UCLA who would like to see schools accurate drug education about counterfeit pills, such as with Stanford's Safety First curriculum.

Allowing students to carry a low-risk, lifesaving drug with them is in many ways the minimum schools can do, he said.

“I would argue that what the schools should be doing is identifying high-risk teens and giving them the Narcan to take home with them and teaching them why it matters,” Friedman said.

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Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, Friedman identified Colorado as a hot spot for high school-aged adolescent overdose deaths, with a mortality rate more than double that of the nation from 2020 to 2022.

“Increasingly, fentanyl is being sold in pill form, and it's happening to the largest degree in the ,” said Friedman. “I think that the teen overdose crisis is a direct result of that.”

If Colorado lawmakers approve the bill, “I think that's a really important step,” said Ju Nyeong Park, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, who leads a research group focused on how to prevent overdoses. “I hope that the Colorado Legislature does and that other states follow as well.”

Park said comprehensive programs to test drugs for dangerous contaminants, better access to evidence-based treatment for adolescents who develop a substance use disorder, and promotion of harm reduction tools are also important. “For example, there is a national hotline called Never Use Alone that anyone can call anonymously to be supervised remotely in case of an emergency,” she said.

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Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

Many Colorado school districts are training staff how to administer naloxone and are stocking it on school grounds through a program that allows them to acquire it from the state at little to no cost. But it was clear to Peterson and other area high schoolers that having naloxone at school isn't enough, especially in rural places.

“The teachers who are trained to use Narcan will not be at the parties where the students will be using the drugs,” he said.

And it isn't enough to expect teens to keep it at home.

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“It's not going to be helpful if it's in somebody's house 20 minutes outside of town. It's going to be helpful if it's in their backpack always,” said Zoe Ramsey, another of McKinney's friends and a senior at Animas High School.

“We were informed it was against the rules to carry naloxone, and especially to distribute it,” said Ilias “Leo” Stritikus, who graduated from Durango High School last year.

But students in the area, and their school administrators, were uncertain: Could students get in trouble for carrying the opioid antagonist in their backpacks, or if they distributed it to friends? And could a school or district be held liable if something went wrong?

He, along with Ramsey and Peterson, helped form the group Students Against Overdose. Together, they convinced Animas, which is a charter school, and the surrounding school district, to change policies. Now, with parental permission, and after going through training on how to administer it, students may carry naloxone on school grounds.

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Durango School District 9-R spokesperson Karla Sluis said at least 45 students have completed the training.

School districts in other parts of the nation have also determined it's important to clarify students' ability to carry naloxone.

“We want to be a part of saving lives,” said Smita Malhotra, chief medical director for Los Angeles Unified School District in California.

Los Angeles County had one of the nation's highest adolescent overdose death tallies of any U.S. county: From 2020 to 2022, 111 teens ages 14 to 18 died. One of them was a 15-year-old who died in a school bathroom of fentanyl poisoning. Malhotra's district has since updated its policy on naloxone to permit students to carry and administer it.

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“All students can carry naloxone in our school campuses without facing any discipline,” Malhotra said. She said the district is also doubling down on peer support and hosting educational sessions for families and students.

Montgomery County in Maryland took a similar approach. School staff had to administer naloxone 18 times over the course of a school year, and five students died over the course of about one semester.

When the district held community forums on the issue, Patricia Kapunan, the district's medical officer, said, “Students were very vocal about wanting access to naloxone. A student is very unlikely to carry something in their backpack which they think they might get in trouble for.”

So it, too, clarified its policy. While that was underway, local news reported that high school students found a teen passed out, with purple lips, in the bathroom of a McDonald's down the street from their school, and used Narcan to revive them. It was during lunch on a school day.

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“We can't Narcan our way out of the opioid use crisis,” said Kapunan. “But it was critical to do it first. Just like knowing 911.”

Now, with the support of the district and county department, students are training other students how to administer naloxone. Jackson Taylor, one of the student trainers, estimated they trained about 200 students over the course of three hours on a recent Saturday.

“It felt amazing, this footstep toward fixing the issue,” Taylor said.

Each trainee left with two doses of naloxone.

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

——————————
By: Rae Ellen Bichell
Title: How a Friend's Death Turned Colorado Teens Into Anti-Overdose Activists
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/teen-overdose-fentanyl-naloxone-narcan-state-legislation/
Published Date: Fri, 01 Mar 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://www.biloxinewsevents.com/bathroom-bills-are-back-broader-and-stricter-in-several-states/

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Medical Providers Still Grappling With UnitedHealth Cyberattack: ‘More Devastating Than Covid’

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Samantha Liss
Fri, 19 Apr 2024 16:45:00 +0000

Two months after a cyberattack on a UnitedHealth Group subsidiary halted payments to some , medical providers say they're still grappling with the fallout, even though UnitedHealth told shareholders on Tuesday that business is largely back to normal.

“We are still desperately struggling,” said Emily Benson, a therapist in Edina, Minnesota, who runs her own practice, Beginnings & Beyond. “This was way more devastating than covid ever was.”

Change , a business unit of the Minnesota-based insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, controls a digital network so vast it processes nearly 1 in 3 U.S. patient each year. The network is a critical conduit for shuttling information between most of the nation's insurance companies and medical providers, who submit claims through it to get paid for treating patients.

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For Benson, the cyberattack continues to significantly disrupt her business and her ability to pay her seven other clinicians.

Before the hack brought down the system, an insurance company would process a provider's claim, then send a type of receipt known as an “electronic remittance,” which details the amount the provider was paid and whether the claim was denied. Without it, providers don't know if they were paid correctly or how much to bill patients. 

Now, instead of automatically handling those receipts digitally, some insurers must send forms in the mail. The forms require manual entry, which Benson said is a time-consuming process because it requires her to match up service dates and details to divvy up pay among her clinicians. And from at least one insurer, she said, she has yet to receive any remittances.  

“I'm holding on to my sanity by a thread,” Benson said.

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The situation is so dire, Alex Shteynshlyuger, a urologist who owns a practice in New York , said he had to transfer money from his personal accounts to pay his office bills.  

“Look, I am freaking out,” Shteynshlyuger said. “Everyone is freaking out. We are like monkeys in a cage. We can't really do anything about it.”

Roughly 30% of his claims were routed through Change's platform. Except for Medicare and certain Blue Cross plans, he said, he has been unable to submit claims or receive payment from any insurers.

The company is encouraging struggling providers to reach out to the company directly via its website, said Tyler Mason, vice president of communications for UnitedHealth Group.

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“I don't think we've had a single provider that hasn't been helped that's contacted us.” As part of that help, Mason said, UnitedHealth has sent providers $7 billion so far.

Ever since the February cyberattack forced UnitedHealth to disconnect its Change platform, the company has been working “day and night to restore services” and has made “substantial progress,” UnitedHealth Andrew Witty told shareholders April 16. 

“We see a fairly normal claims receipts and payments flow going on at this point,” Chief Financial Officer John Rex said during the shareholder call. “But we'll really want to be careful on that because we know there are certain care providers out there that may have been left out of it.”

Rex said the company expects full operations to resume next year.

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The company reported that the hacking has already cost it $870 million and that expect the final tally to total at least $1 billion this year. To put that in perspective, the company reported $99.8 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2024, an 8.6% increase over that period last year.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee held a hearing April 16 seeking answers on the severity and the cyberattack caused to the nation's health system.

Subcommittee chair Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) said a provider in his hometown is still grappling with the fallout from the attack and losing staff because they can't make payroll. Providers “still haven't been made whole,” Guthrie said.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) voiced concern that a “single point of failure” reverberated around the country, disrupting patients' access and providers' financial stability.

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Lawmakers expressed frustration that UnitedHealth failed to send a representative to the Capitol to answer their questions. The committee had sent Witty a list of detailed questions ahead of the hearing but was still awaiting answers.

As providers wait, too, they are to the gaps. To pay her practice's bills, Benson said, she had to take out a nearly $40,000 loan — from a division of UnitedHealth.

——————————
By: Samantha Liss
Title: Medical Providers Still Grappling With UnitedHealth Cyberattack: ‘More Devastating Than Covid'
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/cyberattack-fallout-unitedhealth-change-healthcare-medical-providers-financial-instability/
Published Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2024 16:45:00 +0000

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He Thinks His Wife Died in an Understaffed Hospital. Now He’s Trying to Change the Industry.

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Kate Wells, Michigan Public
Fri, 19 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

For the past year, police Detective Tim Lillard has spent most of his waking hours unofficially investigating his wife's .

The question has never been exactly how Ann Picha-Lillard died on Nov. 19, 2022: She succumbed to respiratory failure after an infection put too much strain on her weakened lungs. She was 65.

For Tim Lillard, the question has been why.

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Lillard had been in the hospital with his wife every day for a month. Nurses in the intensive care unit had told him they were short-staffed, and were constantly rushing from one patient to the next.

Lillard tried to pitch in where he could: brushing Ann's shoulder-length blonde hair or flagging down help when her tracheostomy tube gurgled — a sign of possible respiratory distress.

So the day he walked into the ICU and saw staff members huddled in Ann's room, he knew it was serious. He called the 's adult children: “It's Mom,” he told them. “Come now.”

All he could do then was sit on Ann's bed and hold her hand, watching as staff members performed chest compressions, desperately trying to save her life.

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A minute ticked by. Then another. Lillard's not sure how long the CPR continued — long enough for the couple's son to arrive and take a seat on the other side of Ann's bed, holding her other hand.

Finally, the intensive care doctor called it and the team stopped CPR. Time of death: 12:37 p.m.

Lillard didn't know what to do in a world without Ann. They had been married almost 25 years. “We were best friends,” he said.

Just days before her death, nurses had told Lillard that Ann could be discharged to a rehabilitation center as soon as the end of the . Then, suddenly, she was gone. Lillard didn't understand what had happened.

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Lillard said he now believes that overwhelmed, understaffed nurses hadn't been able to respond in time as Ann's deteriorated. And he has made it his mission to fight for change, joining some nursing unions in a push for mandatory ratios that would limit the number of in a nurse's care. “I without a doubt believe 100% Ann would still be here today if they had staffing levels, mandatory staffing levels, especially in ICU,” Lillard said.

Last year, Oregon became the second after California to pass hospital-wide nurse ratios that limit the number of patients in a nurse's care. Michigan, Maine, and Pennsylvania are now weighing similar legislation.

But supporters of mandatory ratios are going up against a powerful hospital industry spending millions of dollars to kill those efforts. And hospitals and health systems say any staffing ratio regulations, however well-intentioned, would only put patients in greater danger.

Putting Patients at Risk

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By next year, the United States could have as many as 450,000 fewer nurses than it needs, according to one estimate. The hospital industry blames covid-19 burnout, an aging workforce, a large patient population, and an insufficient pipeline of new nurses entering the field.

But nursing unions say that's not the full story. There are now 4.7 million registered nurses in the country, more than ever before, with an estimated 130,000 nurses having entered the field from 2020 to 2022.

The problem, the unions say, is a hospital industry that's been intentionally understaffing their units for years in order to cut costs and bolster profits. The unions say there isn't a shortage of nurses but a shortage of nurses willing to work in those conditions.

The nurse staffing crisis is now affecting patient care. The number of Michigan nurses who say they know of a patient who has died because of understaffing has nearly doubled in recent years, according to a Michigan Nurses Association survey last year.

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Just months before Ann Picha-Lillard's death, nurses and doctors at the health system where she died had asked the Michigan attorney general to investigate staffing cuts they believed were leading to dangerous conditions, including patient deaths, according to The Detroit .

But Lillard didn't know any of that when he drove his wife to the hospital in October 2022. She had been feeling short of breath for a few weeks after she and Lillard had mild covid infections. They were both vaccinated, but Ann was immunocompromised. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that had also caused scarring in her lungs.

To be safe, doctors at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital wanted to keep Ann for observation. After a few days in the facility, she developed pneumonia. Doctors told the couple that Ann needed to be intubated. Ann was terrified but Lillard begged her to listen to the doctors. Tearfully, she agreed.

With Ann on a ventilator in the ICU, it seemed clear to Lillard that nurses were understaffed and overwhelmed. One nurse told him they had been especially short-staffed lately, Lillard said.

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“The alarms would go off for the medications, they'd come into the room, shut off the alarm when they get low, run to the medication room, come back, set them down, go to the next room, shut off alarms,” Lillard recalled. “And that was going on all the time.”

Lillard felt bad for the nurses, he said. “But obviously, also for my wife. That's why I tried doing as much as I could when I was there. I would comb her hair, clean her, just keep an eye on things. But I had no idea what was really going on.”

Finally, Ann's health seemed to be stabilizing. A nurse told Lillard they'd be able to discharge Ann, possibly by the end of that week.

By Nov. 17, Ann was no longer sedated and she cried when she saw Lillard and her daughter. Still unable to speak, she tried to mouth words to her husband “but we couldn't understand what she was saying,” Lillard said.

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The next day, Lillard went home feeling hopeful, counting down the days until Ann could the hospital.

Less than 24 hours later, Ann died.

Lillard couldn't wrap his head around how things went downhill so fast. Ann's underlying lung condition, the infection, and her weakened state could have proved fatal in the best of circumstances. But Lillard wanted to understand how Ann had gone from nearly discharged to dying, seemingly overnight.

He turned his dining room table into a makeshift office and started with what he knew. The day Ann died, he remembered her medical team telling him that her heart rate had spiked and she had developed another infection the night before. Lillard said he interviewed two DMC Huron Valley-Sinai nurse administrators, and had his own doctor look through Ann's charts and test results from the hospital. “Everybody kept telling me: sepsis, sepsis, sepsis,” he said.

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Sepsis is when an infection triggers an extreme reaction in the body that can cause rapid organ failure. It's one of the leading causes of death in U.S. hospitals. Some experts say up to 80% of sepsis deaths are preventable, while others say the percentage is far lower.

Lives can be saved when sepsis is caught and treated fast, which requires careful attention to small changes in vital signs. One study found that for every additional patient a nurse had to care for, the mortality rate from sepsis increased by 12%.

Lillard became convinced that had there been more nurses working in the ICU, someone could have caught what was happening to Ann.

“They just didn't have the time,” he said.

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DMC Huron Valley-Sinai's director of communications and media relations, Brian Taylor, declined a request for comment about the 2022 staffing complaint to the Michigan attorney general.

Following the Money

When Lillard asked the hospital for copies of Ann's medical records, DMC Huron Valley-Sinai told him he'd have to request them from its parent company in Texas.

Like so many hospitals in recent years, the Lillards' local health system had been absorbed by a of other corporations. In 2011, the Detroit Medical Center health system was bought for $1.5 billion by Vanguard Health Systems, which was backed by the private equity company Blackstone Group.

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Two years after that, in 2013, Vanguard itself was acquired by Tenet Healthcare, a for-profit company based in Dallas that, according to its website, operates 480 ambulatory surgery centers and surgical hospitals, 52 hospitals, and approximately 160 additional outpatient centers.

As health care executives face increasing pressure from investors, nursing unions say hospitals have been intentionally understaffing nurses to reduce labor costs and increase revenue. Also, insurance reimbursements incentivize keeping nurse staffing levels low. “Hospitals are not directly reimbursed for nursing services in the same way that a physician bills for their services,” said Karen Lasater, an associate professor of nursing in the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania. “And because hospitals don't perceive nursing as a service line, but rather a cost center, they think about nursing as: How can we reduce this to the lowest denominator possible?” she said.

Lasater is a proponent of mandatory nurse ratios. “The nursing shortage is not a pipeline problem, but a leaky bucket problem,” she said. “And the to this crisis need to address the root cause of the issue, which is why nurses are saying they're leaving employment. And it's rooted in unsafe staffing. It's not safe for the patients, but it's also not safe for nurses.”

A Battle Between Hospitals and Unions

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In November, almost one year after Ann's death, Lillard told a room of lawmakers at the Michigan State Capitol that he believes the Safe Patient Care Act could save lives. The health policy committee in the Michigan House was holding a hearing on the proposed act, which would limit the amount of mandatory overtime a nurse can be forced to work, and require hospitals to make their staffing levels available to the public.

Most significantly, the bills would require hospitals to have mandatory, minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. For example: one nurse for every patient in the ICU; one for every three patients in the emergency room; a nurse for triage; and one nurse for every four postpartum birthing patients and well-baby care.

Efforts to pass mandatory ratio laws failed in Washington and Minnesota last year after facing opposition from the hospital industry. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Nurses Association accused the Mayo Clinic of using “blackmail tactics”: Mayo had told lawmakers it would pull billions of dollars in investment from the state if mandatory ratio legislation passed. Soon afterward, lawmakers removed nurse ratios from the legislation.

While Lillard waited for his turn to speak to Michigan lawmakers about the Safe Patient Care Act in November, members of the Michigan Nurses Association, which says it represents some 13,000 nurses, told lawmakers that its units were dangerously understaffed. They said critical care nurses were sometimes caring for up to 11 patients at a time.

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“Last year I coded someone in an ICU for 10 minutes, all alone, because there was no one to help me,” said the nurses association president and registered nurse Jamie Brown, reading from another nurse's letter.

“I have been left as the only specially trained nurse to take care of eight babies on the unit: eight fragile newborns,” said Carolyn Clemens, a registered nurse from the Grand Blanc area of Michigan.

Nikia Parker said she has left full-time emergency room nursing, a job she believes is her calling. After her friend died in the hospital where she worked, she was left wondering whether understaffing may have contributed to his death.

“If the Safe Patient Care Act passed, and we have ratios, I'm one of those nurses who would return to the bedside full time,” Parker told lawmakers. “And so many of my co-workers who have left would join me.”

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But not all nurses agree that mandatory ratios are a good idea. 

While the American Nurses Association supports enforceable ratios as an “essential approach,” that organization's Michigan chapter does not, saying there may not be enough nurses in the state to satisfy the requirements of the Safe Patient Care Act.

For some lawmakers, the risk of collateral damage seems too high. State Rep. Graham Filler said he worries that mandating ratios could backfire.

“We're going to severely hamper health care in the state of Michigan. I'm talking closed wards because you can't meet the ratio in a bill. The inability for a hospital to treat an emergent patient. So it feels kind of to me like a gamble we're taking,” said Filler, a Republican.

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Michigan hospitals are already struggling to fill some 8,400 open positions, according to the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. That association says that complying with the Safe Patient Care Act would require hiring 13,000 nurses.

Every major health system in the state signed a letter opposing mandatory ratios, saying it would force them to close as many as 5,100 beds.

Lillard watched the debate play out in the hearing. “That's a scare tactic, in my opinion, where the hospitals say we're going to have to start closing stuff down,” he said.

He doesn't think legislation on mandatory ratios — which are still awaiting a vote in the Michigan House's health policy committee — are a “magic bullet” for such a complex, national problem. But he believes they could help.

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“The only way these hospitals and the administrations are gonna make any changes, and even start moving towards making it better, is if they're forced to,” Lillard said.

Seated in the center of the hearing room in Lansing, next to a framed photo of Ann, Lillard's hands shook as he recounted those final minutes in the ICU.

“Please take action so that no other person or other family endures this loss,” he said. “You can make a difference in saving lives.”

Grief is one thing, Lillard said, but it's another thing to be haunted by doubts, to worry that your loved one's care was compromised before they ever walked through the hospital doors. What he wants most, he said, is to prevent any other family from having to wonder, “What if?”

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

——————————
By: Kate Wells, Michigan Public
Title: He Thinks His Wife Died in an Understaffed Hospital. Now He's Trying to Change the Industry.
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/nurse-ratios-understaffed-hospitals-michigan-legislation-detective-wife/
Published Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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In San Francisco’s Chinatown, a CEO Works With the Community To Bolster Hospital

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Bernard J. Wolfson
Fri, 19 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

SAN FRANCISCO — Chinese Hospital, located in the heart of this city's legendary Chinatown, struggles with many of the same financial and demographic challenges that plague small independent hospitals in underserved across the country.

Many of its patients are aging Chinese speakers with limited incomes who are reliant on Medicare and Medi-Cal, which pay less than commercial insurance and often don't fully provider costs. And due to an arcane federal rule, Chinese Hospital receives a lower rate of reimbursement than many other hospitals that treat a large number of low-income patients. Add the high cost of labor and supplies in this post-pandemic world, and it's not hard to see why the hospital lost $20 million over the past two years and tapped a nearly $10.4 million loan from the 's distressed hospital loan fund.

Yet the 88-bed hospital has strong ties to the of California-San Francisco and the city's public health department. And it gets support from businesses, charities, and the surrounding community. For Jian Zhang, 58, the hospital's since 2017, fundraising is like breathing.

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“I feel like it's a full-time job for me,” said Zhang, who arrived in San Francisco from Guangzhou, China, as an international student in 1990, earned a nursing doctorate from the University of San Francisco, and has remained in the Bay Area.

Revenue from fundraising and other services have provided a big boost, helping the hospital significantly offset what it lost on patient care in 2022, according to the hospital and state data. By contrast, Madera Community Hospital and Beverly Hospital were far less able to do so. Those hospitals, which also serve low-income populations with many patients on government programs, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Chinese Hospital has its roots in a medicinal dispensary, founded in 1899 to provide health care for Chinese immigrants who were effectively excluded from mainstream medical facilities. The hospital itself opened in 1925, and a second building was added next door in 1979. In 2016, a new building replaced the original hospital.

, Chinese Hospital includes those two buildings plus five outpatient clinics offering Eastern and Western medicine, spread out across San Francisco and neighboring San Mateo County. Through partnerships, Chinese Hospital has been able to offer specialty services to its patients, including eye surgery, palliative care, and a stroke center. And $10 million in it received from the state last year will build a subacute unit, which is for fragile patients who still need nursing and monitoring following a hospital stay.

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In an interview with KFF Health senior correspondent Bernard J. Wolfson, Zhang discussed the challenges facing small independent hospitals, including Chinese Hospital, and offered her vision for its future. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity:

Q: What are some of the main challenges your hospital faces?

We are facing all the challenges other hospitals are facing, especially the covid pandemic and its associated negative impact — the physician shortage and workforce shortage, the labor cost increases. But as a small community hospital, we don't have a lot of reserve money. It's hard to make ends meet.

That is a huge challenge because of the low reimbursement rate. We serve more than 80% Medicare and Medi-Cal patients.

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Q: What are some specific challenges of serving a largely Chinese population?

In this market, with the workforce shortage, and especially after the pandemic, it's even harder to recruit bilingual physicians, and other bilingual staff.

And culturally, Chinese patients, when they are sick, need to drink soup for healing or eat certain other foods for healing. You can't be providing sandwiches and salads. They won't eat that. So our kitchen has to provide Chinese food, has to boil soup, and then we have to cook different food for our patients who are non-Chinese.

Q: Are you concerned about the state's budget shortfall?

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Absolutely. We all were expecting that Medi-Cal would increase rates. We have been pushing that for many years. But if it's not going to happen, a lot of our programs we probably won't be able to do. I am very concerned about it.

Q: Chinese Hospital has its own health plan, and you said 40% to 50% of your patients are members of it. How has that helped?

It's like Kaiser Permanente. You have your own members, and you manage them. You want your patients to be in outpatient. So you take care of them, keep them healthy, so they don't need to come to the hospital for acute care. That's how you save money.

Q: And I imagine that getting fixed monthly payments — capitation payments — for a large proportion of your patients also helps?

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Definitely, capitation payments help. Especially during the pandemic. Think about it. If you didn't have capitation payments, when procedures were canceled, you didn't have income.

Q: What else has helped you weather the storm?

We have partnerships with San Francisco's Department of Public Health and UCSF. During the pandemic, we took overflow patients from the city, so we didn't have to lay off a lot of people. We signed a contract with the city to open up the second floor of our hospital to take overflow patients from Zuckerberg San Francisco General hospital.

Q: You also have strong fundraising activity.

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We do have strong community support. The hospital is not just a hospital to me. It's really part of our history. In the past, it was the only place [Chinese people] could go. Wherever I went, to a conference, for example, somebody would raise their hand and say, “Oh, I was born at Chinese Hospital” or “My grandfather was born at Chinese Hospital.” It is really, really deeply rooted in the community.

Q: What's your vision for the future of the hospital?

Chinese Hospital is very important to the community, and I want to see it survive and thrive. But it definitely needs support from the government and from the community. Moving forward, we will continue to build on collaborations and partnerships.

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

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By: Bernard J. Wolfson
Title: In San Francisco's Chinatown, a CEO Works With the Community To Bolster Hospital
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/san-francisco-chinatown-chinese-hospital-ceo-jian-zhang-interview/
Published Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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