Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Rural Health Surge Readiness Web Portal

We know rural health care faces unique challenges in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Healthcare Resilience Working Group (HRWG) has developed the Rural Health Surge Readiness web portal, a collection of essential rural health care resources, tools, and training that health care workers and organizations – including EMS & 911, inpatient & hospital care, ambulatory care, and long-term care – can utilize to prepare for and respond to COVID-19.

This one-stop shop for rural health care lets users quickly find the information they need to prepare for or respond to surge events, navigate financial challenges related to the pandemic, and can enhance their capacity and capability to provide lifesaving care to Americans who live in rural areas across the country.

Check out the portal. For more information, contact the Federal Healthcare Resilience Working Group.

NIOSH: Update on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Response

NIOSH Science Blogs

Case Investigation and Contact Tracing
CDC has published Case Investigation and Contact Tracing in Nonhealthcare Workplaces. This information will help employers understand how to collaborate with health departments during COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing.

Carpooling Infographic

CDC has developed an infographic with suggestions for how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when carpooling to and from work.

How and What to Communicate to Employees About COVID-19

CDC has published the COVID-19 Communication Plan for Select Non-healthcare Critical Infrastructure Employers. This document suggests how and what to communicate to employees, including communication channels and messages

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is Offering Assistance with Economic Stimulus Payments

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Campaign for Working Families (CWF), an estimated 350,000-450,000 Pennsylvanians may have missed their Economic Impact Payment (EIP), also known as the $1,200 stimulus payment. If people did not file taxes, they can still complete the non-filer form for the EIP until October 15, 2020. In addition, CWF is able to assist people with completing the non-filer form if needed. More information can be found in the press release below.

The Department of Human Services is asking for your help in getting this message out to people who may really need this financial support if they have not already received it.

You can find more information at the DHS website.

Pennsylvania Governor’s Administration Highlights Increased Efforts to Expand COVID-19 Testing Availability

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine today highlighted ongoing efforts to expand testing across Pennsylvania to ensure that every Pennsylvanian who wants a test can get one.

“If we want to mitigate the spread of this very contagious virus, we must continue to understand how it’s impacting Pennsylvania. Most importantly, improving access to testing helps Pennsylvanians who want and need to test for COVID-19,” Gov. Wolf said. “Testing also provides us with critical data to understand where the disease is in our communities so that we can take the necessary proactive measures to stop the spread and continue to protect the public.”

The Wolf Administration continues to work to further increase testing in Pennsylvania. This includes partnerships in place with Walmart and Quest Diagnostics, which provide direct access in many communities, including rural areas.

The administration also continues to work with laboratories across the state in order to enhance testing capacity in Pennsylvania, particularly as we see significant national delays in receiving test results due to other states experiencing major case increases.

“In Pennsylvania, we are committed to ensuring that testing is accessible, available and adaptable,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Through working with our partners, including Walmart and Quest Diagnostics, we are helping to ensure that anyone who needs to get tested for COVID-19 in Pennsylvania can get tested. Testing, along with wearing a mask, washing your hands, maintaining social distancing and contact tracing are essential tools to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.”

Nine drive-thru Walmart testing sites launched on Aug. 5. These nine new sites are in addition to existing Walmart drive-thru sites in Clarion, State College, New Castle and Edinboro.

“Walmart is happy to assist Governor Wolf with reliable timely COVID-19 tests via a convenient drive thru,” said Jamie Reilly, Walmart regional health and wellness director.

Pennsylvania has conducted the ninth highest total number of tests for COVID-19 in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 1.6 million tests have been completed, which equates to 13 percent of the Pennsylvania population.

At the height of the first wave in April, statewide testing capacity was limited to under 8,000 tests per day. Pennsylvania is now averaging more than 22,000 test results per day, as of Saturday, Aug. 1, and is testing about 4 percent of the population each month.

The most updated testing sites and information is available at the Department of Health. Testing sites continue to be added.

For the updated commonwealth map of testing sites, visit Pennsylvania COVID-19 Viral Testing Sites.

COVID-19: Coverage of Physician Telehealth Services Provided to SNF Residents

The current COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) does not waive any requirements related to Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) Consolidated Billing (CB); however, CMS added CPT codes 99441, 99442, and 99443, to the list of telehealth codes coverable under the waiver during the COVID-19 PHE. These codes designate three different time increments of telephone evaluation and management service provided by a physician. You can bill for these physician services separately under Part B when furnished to a SNF’s Part A resident.

Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) will reprocess claims for CPT codes 99441, 99442 and 99443 with dates of service on or after March 1, 2020, that were denied due to SNF CB edits. You do not have to do anything. If you already received payment from the SNF for these physician services, return that payment to the SNF once the MAC reprocesses your claim.

HHS Report on Telehealth Utilization amid COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), issued a new report showing the dramatic utilization trends of telehealth services for primary care delivery in fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report analyzes claims data from January through early June and underscores how telehealth flexibilities helped to spur and maintain Medicare beneficiaries’ access to their primary care providers. At the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), with stay-at-home orders in place and warnings on the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increasing with age, the report found Medicare FFS in-person visits for primary care fell precipitously in mid-March. It then found that in April, nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits were provided through telehealth compared with less than one percent (0.1%) in February before the PHE. Read the press release.

Quest Predicts New FDA-Approved Lab Method Will Slash COVID-19 Test Turnaround Times

Commercial labs like Quest Diagnostics have faced challenges in keeping pace with outbreaks, leading to extended times to turn around coronavirus tests.  The delay–in some cases of up to several weeks– have made testing of significantly less value. With the announcement by Quest on Wednesday that the Food and Drug Administration has granted the company emergency authorization to use a new technique, the company said it expects “to achieve average turnaround times of 1 day for ‘Priority 1’ patients and 2-3 days for all other patients in coming weeks.” The new technique, which “speeds the process of extracting viral RNA from specimens,” will also boost Quest’s overall testing capacity. Read more.

HHS Announces Revised Reporting Schedule for Provider Relief Fund

On July 21, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released information updating the timeline and schedule for mandatory reports on the use of Provider Relief Funds (PRF). (Please note: this information supersedes the announcement from May 2020 that reports would be due within 10 days of the end of each calendar quarter; that guidance has been rescinded.) The first report will now be due no later than Feb. 15, 2021 and will cover all funds used during CY 2020. Health centers that have not spent all their PRF monies in CY 2020 must submit a second report on their use of PRF funds in 2021; this report is due no later than July 31, 2021. HHS indicates that no reports will be accepted after July 10, 2021, suggesting that June 30, 2021 is the final date for using PRF funds; however, HHS has yet to say anything explicit about such an end date. HHS has also not released anything on what information must be included in these reports. HHS states that this information will be available no later than August 17, and that the reporting system will open on October 1. Please see the official HHS announcement for further details. Also, the NACHC “mega-spreadsheet” of info on Federal COVID funding sources will be updated ASAP to reflect this new info, including the chart list of major deadlines in Tab 2.

Cerner Launches Cloud-Based EHR System Geared for Rural and Critical Access Hospitals

Cerner, an electronic health record software company, launched a cloud-based version of its electronic health record (EHR) with the aim of helping rural and Critical Access Hospitals eliminate costs associated with traditional EHR systems. Many rural hospitals are now facing increased pressure to cut costs to stay afloat due to losses in revenue from cancelled elective procedures and patient attrition. Cloud-based EHRs help cut costs by lowering maintenance costs and fixed payments, allowing rural health systems to focus their budgets on operational costs. Many experts expect to see more rural health systems invest in this innovative technology and potentially use some of the funds from the $10 billion rural carveout of the Provider Relief Fund distributed by HHS to install cloud-based EHRs.

COVID Crisis Highlights Need for Rural Broadband

Rural hospitals are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of having adequate broadband to enable access to telehealth. As telehealth becomes more popular, broadband becomes increasingly essential. The July 15 Webinar, “COVID-19 Impacts on Rural Healthcare and Broadband,” the fourth webinar in the “From the Farmgate” series of webinars CoBank sponsors, presented speakers covering these issues. These presenters advocate for rural broadband and healthcare stabilization through policy action. In addition, this article highlights a struggling hospital and showcases communication companies that have signed the pledge to not disconnect anyone from broadband service due to the inability to pay for their service.