Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

HHS Unveils New Public Coronavirus Data System

The Trump administration has restored public access to coronavirus data reported by hospitals to the federal government, after an outcry over missing data and controversy over a change in the agency that collects it. The information is now being published on the HHS Protect website of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) instead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Healthcare Safety Network. The change was necessary, officials said, because they believed the CDC’s system was too slow, and was unable to keep up with the constantly changing information about the virus. Read more.

PA Health Secretary Levine New ASTHO President

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) announced the appointment of Rachel Levine, MD, Secretary of Health at the Pennsylvania Department of Health and professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine, as ASTHO’s new president, effective July 15. “We could not be more thrilled to have Dr. Levine serving as our new president,” says Michael Fraser, CEO of ASTHO. “Throughout her entire career, Dr. Levine has led with a discerning blend of urgency, expertise, and compassion. She has taken huge strides in combatting the opioid epidemic, advancing LGBTQ equity, and protecting rural health-among so much else. At this pivotal moment in public health, I am truly grateful to have Dr. Levine’s rich experience and visionary leadership at the helm.”

PA HAN UPDATE: Return to Work for Healthcare Personnel with Confirmed or Suspected COVID-19

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) has released updated guidance for making decisions about return to work for healthcare personnel (HCP) with confirmed COVID-19, or who have suspected COVID-19 (e.g., developed symptoms of COVID-19 but did not get tested for COVID-19). These updates are consistent with those published by the CDC on July 17, 2020. This 2020-PAHAN-516-07-18-UPD replaces PA-HAN-501. The changes include:

  • Except for rare situations, a test-based strategy is no longer recommended to determine when to allow HCP to return to work
  • For healthcare providers (HCP) with severe to critical illness or who are severely immunocompromised, the recommended duration for work exclusion was extended to 20 days after symptom onset (or 20 days after their initial positive SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test for asymptomatic persons)
  • Other symptom-based criteria were modified as follows:
    • Changed from “at least 72 hours” to “at least 24 hours” have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications
    • Changed from “improvement in respiratory symptoms” to improvement in symptoms” to address the expanding list of symptoms associated with COVID-19

If you have questions about this guidance, please contact DOH at 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) or your local health department.

Rural Hospitals Hang on as Pandemic Reaches Smaller Communities

After metropolitan areas were battered by the COIVD-19 pandemic, rural areas have emerged as the new frontline for the virus. Small rural hospitals are struggling to keep their doors open after losing profits due to forgoing elective procedures. It is estimated that hospitals and health systems have lost $202.6 billion between March and June and will lose an additional $120.5 billion by the end of the year. Projections claim that federal relief from the CARES Act is not nearly enough to counteract the losses hospitals face. Experts in health policy and management are forecasting a major change in rural hospital policy over the course of the pandemic and into the long-term future due to these struggles.

Rural Hospitals Struggle with Guidance over CARES Act Money

Hospitals are seeking guidance from HHS on how to utilize past distributed funds with the next package getting ready to be dispersed. The response may lead to hospitals needing to return portions of the coronavirus relief package funding. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed to protect rural hospitals forced to stop elective procedures during the pandemic. Now, five months into the pandemic, economic disruptions are continuing and hospitals are wondering how long CARES funding will replace the money they have lost. Ten billion dollars was distributed to rural hospitals, but people worry about how long the funding will last, especially hospitals that never treated COVID-19 patients.

National Health Service Corps New Site Application (Extended to August 4th)

Health care facilities providing outpatient, ambulatory, and primary health care services in high-need urban and rural areas may still apply to become an approved site for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). Eligible site types include facilities providing general substance use disorder treatment, a Medication Assisted Treatment program, or an Opioid Treatment Program. Once a facility is an approved site, the NHSC will help hire, recruit, and train clinicians.

HHS Strengthening Economic Supports for Working Families

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) will make six awards, each up to $450,000 per year for a three-year demonstration project. Successful applicants are community-level governments and organizations engaged in outreach for the earned income tax credit in communities at higher risk for adverse childhood experiences. The HHS Office of Minority Health created an hour-long video to assist applicants to this funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Applications are due August 17th.

340b Update: HRSA Indicates it Lacks Authority to Enforce 340b Program Guidance

Section 340b creates a price ceiling that requires manufacturers to maintain drug prices at or below the ceiling. In a public statement, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) recently said its guidance documents related to the 340b Drug Pricing Program (340b Program) are unenforceable. This is a response to Eli Lilly and Co.’s notice to 340b entities, explaining Cialis can no longer be provided at the 340b pricing, challenging HRSA’s 340b statute interpretation that has allowed drugs to be provided at 340b pricing. From HRSA’s response, it seems unlikely that the Administration will act against a manufacturer or organization unless they deliberately violate the statute. HRSA, in response to Eli Lilly’s notice, states that they can only act if there is a clear violation against 340b.