Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

OSHA Releases COVID-19 Dentistry Guidance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released “Guidance for Dentistry Workers and Employers” last week. It provides guidance for dentistry workers and employers at increased risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19. Dental offices should look to the Department of Health’s guidance from March 26th for the current treatment guidelines in PA; though OSHA and CDC recommendations may be a helpful resource for offices once they return to clinical treatment.

Click here for more information.

HRSA Offers Reimbursement to Health Care Providers 

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) launched the “COVID-19 Uninsured Program Portal” where health care providers who have conducted COVID-19 testing of uninsured individuals for COVID-19 or provided treatment to uninsured individuals with a COVID-19 diagnosis on or after February 4, 2020 can request claims for reimbursement. HRSA also developed a video overview of the program.

Click here for more information.
Click here to watch the overview video.

ARC Notice for Repurposing Existing Federal Financial Assistance Programs and Awards to Support Response to COVID-19

ARC has notified our current grantees that they may be able to repurpose remaining balances in their ARC grants to support immediate efforts to combat the COVID-19 crisis in their communities. This allowance to repurpose derives from guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on April 9, 2020, which directs the federal government to marshal all legally available federal resources to combat the effects of COVID-19. Requests for repurposing should be discussed initially with the State ARC Program Manager and will require final approval by the State Alternate and the ARC Federal Co-Chair. Grantees should not assume that additional funds will be available should the repurposing result in shortages for the implementation of the originally approved grant.

ARC is carefully and continually monitoring the COVID-19 situation as it is impacting the Appalachian Region. We are assisting grantees who are unable to meet project goals or timelines due to the current situation. If you are a current ARC grantee experiencing such challenges, please email your ARC project coordinator and state program manager as soon as possible for help with needed accommodations regarding your project’s deliverables, timelines, budget, or other operations. (When emailing, please put your ARC project number in the subject line. This will make responding to your request easier).

Appalachia Responds to COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, communities across Appalachia are banding together to pool resources and ideas for resilience. Here’s an inspiring example:

In the days following COVID-19 related shutdowns, the Appalachian Impact Fund, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, and the Community Economic Development Initiative for Kentucky (CEDIK) at the University of Kentucky sprung into action. They raised almost half a million dollars, and created the Southeast Kentucky Downtown Business Stimulus Fund to help downtown businesses.

Drawing on ARC POWER support, this revolving loan fund and technical assistance program will support downtown revitalization efforts and entrepreneurial ecosystems across 10 counties in Southeastern Kentucky. The project is a partnership between the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and the Community Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) to form the Appalachian Impact Fund (AIF).

ARC: Substance Abuse Recovery Services Continue Care During COVID-19 Crisis

Recently, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)  Director James Carroll and Senior Advisor for Rural Affairs Anne Hazlett briefed members of ARC’s Substance Abuse Advisory Council (SAAC) about federal strategies ensuring that Americans struggling with addiction can receive services and support during the COVID-19 crisis. During the briefing call, Carroll said that he is deeply concerned during COVID about the vulnerability of people with substance use disorder to the virus and to relapse in their recovery.  At the same time however, the pandemic has created a big opportunity to make significant policy changes in access to treatment and recovery services through telemedicine.  Lastly, Carroll said that the Administration is deeply committed to ensuring that people are connected to the resources and recovery support systems they need to get well and stay healthy in this critical time.

Offering a regional perspective, SAAC member Karen Kelley, Executive Director of TROSA, a comprehensive recovery program in North Carolina, described how they are readjusting their services to meet health and safety needs, while still providing continuity of care to their clients. Meanwhile, SAAC member Bob Hansen, Director of the Office of Drug Control Policy at West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources described how West Virginia’s Jobs and Hope Initiative has developed a smartphone app to help those in recovery continue to receive needed services.

“It is easy for us to become distracted in the face of COVID-19,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas during the briefing. “but it is important to remember to stay focused on the substance abuse crisis, which has become a pandemic on top of a pandemic.”

Important Child Welfare Updates in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) has provided several important child welfare system updates. While the state was planning to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act provisions on October 1, a request was made to the Administration for Children and Families for a formal delay due to impacts of COVID-19 and budgetary concerns. The department was granted this request, which will change the implementation date to July 1, 2021. This change aligns with the state fiscal year and will assist the state and counties to adequately plan for policy and procedural changes. Read the official press release from DHS.

DHS also has provided important data on the impacts of COVID-19 on the child welfare system. Specifically, Childline, the state reporting system of child abuse and neglect, has seen a 50% decrease in calls. This is not indicative of a reduction in child abuse, rather, it reflects a decrease in interactions between children and mandated reporters. Because mandated reporters (such as school personnel and medical staff) are having limited access with children and youth, there is less direct recognition of abusive situations to report.

We encourage anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect to call ChildLine toll-free at 1-800-932-0313. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to receive reports of suspected child abuse.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and other advocates have been seeking data on positive COVID-19 cases for those involved with the child welfare system. As of May 7, positive cases of COVID-19 include:

  • 34 youth and 153 staff in 55 Pa. Code 3800 facilities
  • Three youth served in family foster or kinship care
  • Eight foster or kinship care providers

Recent Study Highlights Importance of Emergency Department in Readmissions

Emergency departments may play a surprising role in the reduction of readmission rates following the implementation of Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, according to a recent analysis.

Charleen Hsuan, assistant professor of health policy and administration at Penn State, led a study that examined what happens to discharged patients when they returned to a hospital’s emergency department. The results were recently published in JAMA Network Open.

For their research, the authors used a retrospective analysis examining hospital data from three states: California, Florida and New York.

The researchers found the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) was associated with a reduction in the probability of readmission for recently discharged patients presenting to the emergency department, even for conditions for which admission is usually indicated, including congestive heart failure.

The analysis also showed that almost all patients with unplanned readmissions come through the emergency department.

Especially during times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to reduce the number of unnecessary patients in the hospital. “Medicare’s HRRP aims to do this by reducing unnecessary readmissions for patients hospitalized with key conditions,” said Hsuan. “Our study found that the emergency department is an important gatekeeper for readmission decisions.”

The study was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translation Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), through Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Population Research Institute at Penn State.

In addition to Hsuan, other authors of the paper include Brendan Carr, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Renee Y. Hsia, University of California, San Francisco; and Geoffrey J. Hoffman, University of Michigan School of Nursing, Ann Arbor.