HHS Announces Millions of $ to Fight Burnout in Health Care Workforce

On Friday, July 16, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), announced the availability of an estimated $103 million in American Rescue Plan funding over a three-year period to reduce burnout and promote mental health among the health workforce. These investments, which take into particular consideration the needs of rural and medically underserved communities, will help health care organizations establish a culture of wellness  among the health and public safety workforce and will support training efforts that build resiliency for those at the beginning of their health careers.

“It is essential that we provide behavioral health resources for our health care providers – from paraprofessionals to public safety officers – so that they can continue to deliver quality care to our most vulnerable communities,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, who stressed the administration’s committment to ensuring frontline health care workers have access to the services they need to prevent burnout, fatigue, and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Health care providers face many challenges and stresses due to high patient volumes, long work hours and workplace demands. These challenges were amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, and have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and in rural communities. The programs announced today will support the implementation of evidence-informed strategies to help organizations and providers respond to stressful situations, endure hardships, avoid burnout and foster healthy workplace environments that promote mental health and resiliency.

“This funding will help advance HRSA’s mission of developing a health care workforce capable of meeting the critical needs of underserved populations,” said Acting HRSA Administrator Diana Espinosa. “These programs will help to combat occupational stress and depression among our health care workers as they continue their heroic work to defeat the pandemic.”

There are three funding opportunities that are now accepting applications:

  • Promoting Resilience and Mental Health Among Health Professional Workforce– Approximately 10 awards will be made totaling approximately $29 million over three years to health care organizations to support members of their workforce. This includes establishing, enhancing, or expanding evidence-informed programs or protocols to adopt, promote and implement an organizational culture of wellness that includes resilience and mental health among their employees.

U.S. Renews Public Health Emergency

On July 19, Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra renewed the Public Health Emergency (PHE) that has been in effect since January 27, 2020 due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

As a result of the continued consequences of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, on this date and after consultation with public health officials as necessary, I, Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, pursuant to the authority vested in me under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, do hereby renew, effective July 20, 2021, the January 31, 2020, determination by former Secretary Alex M. Azar II, that he previously renewed on April 21, 2020, July 23, 2020, October 2, 2020, and January 7, 2021, and that I renewed on April 15, 2021, that a public health emergency exists and has existed since January 27, 2020, nationwide.

This latest renewal of the PHE will last for 90 days, at which point it will lapse or be renewed again.

This news is not a surprise, as the Biden administration had hinted for some time that a renewal was coming.

A declaration of a PHE permits, among other things, emergency use authorization of vaccines, the access to funding to address the emergency, and deployment of military trauma care providers.

The COVID-19 outbreak is not the only PHE that currently exists in the United States. On July 7, Secretary Becerra renewed a PHE for the opioid crisis that has been in effect for years.

HHS to Evaluate Home Health Agencies on Emergency Communication Plans

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has included in their workplan a report to evaluate home health agencies’ (HHA) compliance with Emergency Preparedness Conditions of Participation (EP CoPs). The report is expected to be issued in 2023. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and fires…

U.S. Renews Public Health Emergency

On July 19, Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra renewed the Public Health Emergency (PHE) that has been in effect since January 27, 2020 due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. As a result of the continued consequences of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, on this date and after…

Proposed Physician Payment Rule Addresses Attending Physician Services Provided by RHCs, FQHCs

–CMS Proposes Part D EPCS Exceptions that Exclude Hospice Waiver The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued its proposed CY2022 physician payment rule  and, as is frequently the case, the rule addresses some issues relevant to hospice care (as well as other matters).  This article will discuss two hospice issues: Proposed implementing…

OSHA Extends Comment Period for COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

As reported here on June 15, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect healthcare and healthcare support service workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 in settings where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present. During the period of the emergency standard, covered healthcare…

OSHA Extends Comment Period for COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

As reported in NAHC Report on June 15, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect healthcare and healthcare support service workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 in settings where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present. During the period of the emergency standard, covered healthcare employers must develop and implement a COVID-19 plan to identify and control COVID-19 hazards in the workplace.

On Thursday, July 8, OSHA announced it will publish a notice in the Federal Register to extend the comment period for the COVID-19 healthcare emergency temporary standard (ETS) to August 20, 2021.

OSHA is extending the comment period by 30 days to allow stakeholders additional time to review the ETS and collect information and data necessary for comment.

Comments can be submitted electronically for Docket No. OSHA-2020-0004 via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for making electronic submissions.

More information about the ETS is available at:  https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/ets.

Provider Relief Fund Reporting Portal is Now Open

1st reporting period began yesterday HRSA will hold a technical assistance webinar on July 8, 2021 at 3:00pm ET. The Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Reporting Portal is now open for providers who need to report on the use of funds in Reporting Period 1. All recipients of PRF payments must comply with the reporting requirements described…

HHS Secretary Defends HCBS Priorities to Congress

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra recently testified to three key Congressional committees, discussing a wide variety of health care issues, including issues related to home and community-based services.

Consistent with past practice, the Biden Administration has released a proposed budget for what they deem necessary to carry out the various policies and programs under their authority. The President’s budget does not carry the weight of law, as Congress holds the power of the purse, but it does give a useful insight into what the President is prioritizing and how he views various issue areas. Following the release of the budget cabinet secretaries head to Capitol Hill for hearings before the relevant committees.

During these hearings Secretary Becerra fielded a wide range of questions spanning the 340B drug discounts to migration along the southern border. Though a specific focus never presented itself during the series of hearings, several issues of interest to home care and hospice providers were addressed.

House Ways and Means Committee

Rep. Ron Kind asked about extending the reporting deadline of the Provider Relief Fund (PRF). Sec. Becerra responded that they wanted to provide flexibility but wanted to maintain accountability as well. Following the conclusion of the hearings HHS issued revised deadlines based on when funds were initially received.

Kind also inquired as to the Secretary’s interest in innovative payment models, to which he responded that he is committed to innovation.

Rep. Carol Miller asked several questions on the PRF. Sec. Becerra did not respond to how much was left in the fund, again cited the need for both accountability and flexibility in determining reporting deadlines and ensured that the Department would be transparent in future disbursements.

Senate Appropriations Committee

Senator Roy Blunt commented there was around $50 billion left in the PRF.

Senator Brian Schatz asked about the importance of Medicare beneficiaries receiving telehealth services in their homes. Sec. Becerra responded that it is important to make sure the reimbursement for services is being applied towards those services citing the need for accountability in care delivery and payment.

Senate Finance Committee

Senator Pat Toomey offered critical remarks on the recent 10% increase to the federal share of the Medicaid program for home and community-based services (HCBS). He inquired if this increase should be ended. Sec. Becerra responded with appreciation for Congress ensuring the states did not go under, is currently implementing the law as Congress passed it, and would work with Congress going forward on the issue.

Senator Bob Casey offered the Secretary commendation for prioritizing HCBS.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse discussed an end-of-life care model he is advocated the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to develop and implement through waivers to current regulations. He expressed his frustration with CMMI not acting on it yet despite his commitment and continued advocacy. Sec. Becerra gave his commitment to work with the Senator on it.

With the President’s proposed $400 billion investment in home and community-based services in mind, further discussion on HCBS during these hearings by Secretary Becerra is an encouraging sign the Administration is still committed to this transformational investment. NAHC will continued to work with the Congress and Administration on the importance of care in the home and the need for further investment ensuring for a patient’s right to choose where they receive care.

Cyber Alert: Updates on Ransomware and Critical VMware Vulnerability

The Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology has released a memo titled “What We Urge You To Do To Protect Against The Threat of Ransomware.”  This memo addresses the growing number and size of ransomware incidents and calls upon government and private sector to take steps…