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Providers scramble for staff to care for pandemic’s sick

As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, the competition for healthcare staff is becoming high stakes.

Hospitals and nursing homes are facing similar dilemmas. In Wisconsin, nursing homes are struggling to accept patients from overrun hospitals, according to John Sauer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin, which represents aging service providers.

“We will not admit individuals for whom we don’t have staff,” Sauer said. “Right now, we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re looking at bringing in workers from out of state to provide help on a temporary basis.”

But those workers come at a cost, one that nursing homes, which have already been burdened with the costs of personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing and infection control measures, will struggle to cover, Sauer said.

“We’re going to pay the piper for those higher costs,” Sauer said. Without federal assistance, he predicts, “We’re going to see many facilities fail in 2021.”

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Vaccinating long-term care residents, staff for COVID-19 comes with challenges

Although healthcare workers and nursing home residents are at the top of the list for COVID-19 vaccinations, there are still many steps needed to guarantee a smooth rollout.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice recommended that the two groups should be in the first phase of COVID-19 vaccination, but the decision will lie with state officials.

“I wish it were as simple as saying we’re going to vaccinate residents and staff,” said David Grabowski, a professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School. Instead, he predicts some challenges on adoption and education.

Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the U.S, said the industry is calling on governors from every state to prioritize long-term staff and residents in vaccine distribution “to save

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CMS signs off on physician fee changes

CMS on Tuesday signed off on Medicare’s 2021 physician fee schedule, giving providers just a month to prepare for the changes.

The final rule permanently allows Medicare providers to use telehealth to carry out home visits for so-called evaluation and management services and some visits for people with cognitive impairments. It also temporarily continues telehealth services for emergency department visits and other services with an eye toward making them permanent, according to a CMS fact sheet.

“Telehealth has long been a priority for the Trump Administration, which is why we started paying for short virtual visits in rural areas long before the pandemic struck. But the pandemic accentuated just how transformative it could be,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

According to CMS, more than 24.5 million of Medicare’s 63 million beneficiaries and enrollees received a Medicare telemedicine service during the public health emergency. The agency

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Congress returns with virus aid, federal funding unresolved

After months of shadowboxing amid a tense and toxic campaign, Capitol Hill’s main players are returning for one final, perhaps futile, attempt at deal-making on a challenging menu of year-end business.

COVID-19 relief, a $1.4 trillion catchall spending package, and defense policy — and a final burst of judicial nominees — dominate a truncated two- or three-week session occurring as the coronavirus pandemic rockets out of control in President Donald Trump’s final weeks in office.

The only absolute must-do business is preventing a government shutdown when a temporary spending bill expires on Dec. 11. The route preferred by top lawmakers like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is to agree upon and pass an omnibus spending bill for the government. But it may be difficult to overcome bitter divisions regarding a long-delayed COVID-19 relief package that’s a top priority of business, state and local

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People weakest link for apps tracking coronavirus exposure

The app builders had planned for pranksters, ensuring that only people with verified COVID-19 cases could trigger an alert. They’d planned for heavy criticism about privacy, in many cases making the features as bare-bones as possible. But, as more states roll out smartphone contact-tracing technology, other challenges are emerging. Namely, human nature.

The problem starts with downloads. Stefano Tessaro calls it the “chicken-and-egg” issue: The system works only if a lot of people buy into it, but people will buy into it only if they know it works.

“Accuracy of the system ends up increasing trust, but it is trust that increases adoptions, which in turn increases accuracy,” Tessaro, a computer scientist at the University of Washington who was involved in creating that state’s forthcoming contact-tracing app, said in a lecture last month.

In other parts of the world, people are taking that necessary leap of faith. Ireland and Switzerland,

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