Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Deadline Extended to Review and Comment on Rural Maternal Health Care

CMS’s Office of Minority Health has announced that the deadline has been extended to submit comments to a Request for Information (RFI) to seek public comments regarding rural maternal and infant health care.

Through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Office of Minority Health, CMS is seeking information related to opportunities to improve access, quality, and outcomes before, during, and after pregnancy, and to develop and refine programs and policies that ensure all rural women have access to high quality maternal health care that results in optimal health.

To review the RFI, please visit go.cms.gov/ruralhealth.

Responses to this RFI will be used to inform future discussions among stakeholders and future work by CMS toward the development and refinement of programs and policies that ensure rural women have access to high quality maternal health care that results in optimal health outcomes.

CMS encourages all stakeholders to review the RFI at go.cms.gov/ruralhealth and submit comments to RuralMaternalRFI@cms.hhs.gov. Comments will be collected until Sunday, May 31 at 11:59pm ET.

For more information and updates about this RFI, please visit the CMS Rural Health website at go.cms.gov/ruralhealth or email questions to RuralMaternalRFI@cms.hhs.gov.

ARC COVID-19 Update: March 26, 2020

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is carefully and continually monitoring the COVID-19 situation as it is impacting the Appalachian Region. ARC staff, who are now primarily working from home, are diligently continuing to process and administer grants, new applications, progress reports, and payment requests as they are received.

We are assisting grantees whom 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).

To support the health and safety of our partners, grantees, and communities, we have also made the following adjustments:

  •  We have extended the application deadline for the Appalachian Entrepreneurship Academy to March 31, 2020. Should this program, or the ARC/ORNL Summer STEM program, need to be modified further, an announcement will be made in mid-April.
  • We have extended the deadline for POWER applications to April 24, 5 pm ET. Additional revisions can also be made to applications already submitted to power.arc.gov during this thirty day extension.
  • We are convening the Appalachian Leadership Institute virtually through online learning modules in lieu of the upcoming field seminars scheduled for Beckley, West Virginia and Boone, North Carolina.
  • We have postponed Envision Appalachia: Community Conversations for ARC’s New Strategic Plan. Our intent is to restart our strategic planning process at a time when we can gather in-person to discuss our Region’s future.

We will be posting any additional ARC operational updates on www.arc.gov/coronavirus, and in forthcoming issues of In The Region.

This is a challenging time for our communities, our Region, and our country. Please continue to check with state and federal authorities for health-related guidance and information.

New Resources Documenting COVID-19 Spread in Appalachia in Relation to Rest of Nation Now Available

The Appalachian Regional Commission has released two new tools documenting the spread of COVID-19 at the regional and county levels. The COVID-10 Cases in Appalachia map displays the current number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Appalachia and throughout the United States. Higher numbers of cases are marked by larger dots, while smaller numbers of confirmed cases are represented by smaller dots. By clicking on a location, users can see confirmed COVID-19 cases and any related deaths at the county level. This map is automatically updated throughout the day drawing on data collected by the Johns Hopkins University. Due to frequent changes, it is advised that users refresh their browsers often when viewing the map. As of March 26th, at 1:30 pm (ET), there were 1,686 confirmed cases in 208 Appalachian counties.

The second tool, Explore County-level Coronavirus Impact Planning is a searchable data base offering demographic data snapshots of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in relation to hospital bed counts, population and businesses, and categories of people at risk for COVID-19 in each one of the nation’s counties. By hovering over each statistical icon, users can learn more about the supporting data. COVID-19 related data is updated daily.

These resources are available at https:/www.arc.gov/coronavirus

USDA Grants Lenders Temporary Exception to Offer Payment Deferrals for Agency Guaranteed Loan Programs

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2020 – USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Bette Brand announced that USDA is granting lenders a temporary exception to offer payment deferrals for Agency guaranteed loan programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective immediately until September 30, 2020, lenders may offer 180-day loan payment deferrals without prior agency approval for Business and Industry Loan Guarantees, Rural Energy for America Program Loan Guarantees, Community Facilities Loan Guarantees, and Water and Waste Disposal Loan Guarantees. For additional information, see page 17721 of the March 31, 2020, Federal Register.

Questions regarding this announcement may be directed to:

If you’d like to subscribe to USDA Rural Development updates, visit our GovDelivery subscriber page.

Counties Without Coronavirus are Mostly Rural, Poor

As the coronavirus rages across the United States, mainly in large urban areas, more than a third of U.S. counties have yet to report a single positive test result for COVID-19 infections, an analysis by The Associated Press shows.

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows that 1,297 counties have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of 3,142 counties nationwide. The number of counties without a positive coronavirus case has declined rapidly, dropping from over half as the AP was preparing to publish. Of the counties without positive tests, 85% are in rural areas – from predominantly white communities in Appalachia and the Great Plains to majority Hispanic and Native American stretches of the American Southwest – that generally have less everyday contact between people that can help transmit the virus.

At the same time, counties with zero positive tests for COVID-19 have a higher median age and higher proportion of people older than 60 – the most vulnerable to severe effects of the virus – and far fewer intensive care beds should they fall sick. Median household income is lower, too, potentially limiting health care options.

The demographics of these counties hold major implications as the Trump administration develops guidelines to rate counties by risk of the virus spreading, empowering local officials to revise social distancing orders that have sent much of the U.S. economy into free fall. President Donald Trump on Sunday extended the country’s voluntary national shutdown for a month, significantly changing his tone on the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts in infectious disease see an opportunity in slowing the spread of coronavirus in remote areas of the country that benefit from “natural” social distancing and isolation, if initial cases are detected and quarantined aggressively. That can buy rural health care networks time to provide robust care and reduce mortality.

But they also worry that sporadic testing for coronavirus could be masking outbreaks that – left unattended – might overwhelm rural health networks.

“They’ll be later to get the infection; they’ll be later to have their epidemics,” said Christine K. Johnson, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Davis. “But I don’t think they’re going to be protected because there’s nowhere in the U.S. that’s isolated.”

Counties that have zero confirmed COVID-19 cases could raise a red flag about inadequate testing, she said.

“I hope the zeros are really zeros – I worry that they’re not doing enough testing in those regions because they’re not thinking they’re at risk,” she said.

In New Mexico, a state with 2 million residents spanning an area the size of Italy, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has moved aggressively to contain the coronavirus’ spread with a statewide school shutdown and prohibition on most gatherings of over five people.

Nearly half of the state’s 33 counties are free of any positive coronavirus cases. New Mexico is among the top five states in coronavirus testing per capita, though some virus-free counties aren’t yet equipped with specialized testing sites beyond samplings by a handful of doctor offices.

Torrance County Manager Wayne Johnson said plans are being made for the first three dedicated COVID-19 testing sites in the high-desert county of 15,000 residents that spans an area three times the size of Rhode Island.

A statewide stay-at-home order is keeping many residents from commuting to jobs in adjacent Bernalillo County, the epicenter of the state’s COVID-19 infections.

Trump Administration Makes Sweeping Regulatory Changes to Help U.S. Healthcare System Address COVID-19 Patient Surge

March 30, 2020

At President Trump’s direction, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an unprecedented array of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules to equip the American healthcare system with maximum flexibility to respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. CMS sets and enforces essential quality and safety standards for the nation’s healthcare system, and is the nation’s largest health insurer serving more than 140 million Americans through Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Federal Exchanges.

Made possible by President Trump’s recent emergency declaration and emergency rule making, these temporary changes will apply immediately across the entire U.S. healthcare system for the duration of the emergency declaration. This allows hospitals and health systems to deliver services at other locations to make room for COVID-19 patients needing acute care in their main facility.

The changes complement and augment the work of FEMA and state and local public health authorities by empowering local hospitals and healthcare systems to rapidly expand treatment capacity that allows them to separate patients infected with COVID-19 from those who are not affected. CMS’s waivers and flexibilities will permit hospitals and healthcare systems to expand capacity by triaging patients to a variety of community-based locales, including ambulatory surgery centers, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, hotels, and dormitories. Transferring uninfected patients will help hospital staffs to focus on the most critical COVID-19 patients, maintain infection control protocols, and conserve personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Every day, heroic nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers are dedicating long hours to their patients. This means sacrificing time with their families and risking their very lives to care for coronavirus patients,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Front line healthcare providers need to be able to focus on patient care in the most flexible and innovative ways possible. This unprecedented temporary relaxation in regulation will help the healthcare system deal with patient surges by giving it tools and support to create non-traditional care sites and staff them quickly.”

Other temporary CMS waivers and rule changes dramatically lessen administrative burdens, knowing that front line providers will be operating with high volumes and under extraordinary system stresses.

CMS recently approved hundreds of waiver requests from healthcare providers, state governments, and state hospital associations in the following states: Ohio; Tennessee; Virginia; Missouri; Michigan; New Hampshire; Oregon; California; Washington; Illinois; Iowa; South Dakota; Texas; New Jersey; and North Carolina. With today’s announcement of blanket waivers, other states and providers do not need to apply for these waivers and can begin using the flexibilities immediately.

Administrator Verma added that she applauds the March 23, 2020, pledge by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) to match CMS’s waivers for Medicare beneficiaries in areas where in-patient capacity is under strain. “It’s a terrific example of public-private partnership and will expand the impact of Medicare’s changes,” Verma said.

CMS’s temporary actions announced today empower local hospitals and healthcare systems to:

  • Increase Hospital Capacity – CMS Hospitals Without Walls:

CMS will allow communities to take advantage of local ambulatory surgery centers that have canceled elective surgeries, per federal recommendations. Surgery centers can contract with local healthcare systems to provide hospital services, or they can enroll and bill as hospitals during the emergency declaration as long as they are not inconsistent with their State’s Emergency Preparedness or Pandemic Plan. The new flexibilities will also leverage these types of sites to decant services typically provided by hospitals such as cancer procedures, trauma surgeries and other essential surgeries.

CMS will now temporarily permit non-hospital buildings and spaces to be used for patient care and quarantine sites, provided that the location is approved by the State and ensures the safety and comfort of patients and staff. This will expand the capacity of communities to develop a system of care that safely treats patients without COVID-19, and isolate and treat patients with COVID-19.

CMS will also allow hospitals, laboratories, and other entities to perform tests for COVID-19 on people at home and in other community-based settings outside of the hospital. This will both increase access to testing and reduce risks of exposure. The new guidance allows healthcare systems, hospitals, and communities to set up testing sites exclusively for the purpose of identifying COVID-19-positive patients in a safe environment.

In addition, CMS will allow hospital emergency departments to test and screen patients for COVID-19 at drive-through and off-campus test sites.

During the public health emergency, ambulances can transport patients to a wider range of locations when other transportation is not medically appropriate. These destinations include community mental health centers, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), physician’s offices, urgent care facilities, ambulatory surgery centers, and any locations furnishing dialysis services when an ESRD facility is not available.

Physician-owned hospitals can temporarily increase the number of their licensed beds, operating rooms, and procedure rooms. For example, a physician-owned hospital may temporarily convert observation beds to inpatient beds to accommodate patient surge during the public health emergency.

In addition, hospitals can bill for services provided outside their four walls. Emergency departments of hospitals can use telehealth services to quickly assess patients to determine the most appropriate site of care, freeing emergency space for those that need it most. New rules ensure that patients can be screened at alternate treatment and testing sites which are not subject to the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act (EMTALA) as long as the national emergency remains in force. This will allow hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) to screen patients at a location offsite from the hospital’s campus to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Rapidly Expand the Healthcare Workforce:

Local private practice clinicians and their trained staff may be available for temporary employment since nonessential medical and surgical services are postponed during the public health emergency. CMS’s temporary requirements allow hospitals and healthcare systems to increase their workforce capacity by removing barriers for physicians, nurses, and other clinicians to be readily hired from the local community as well as those licensed from other states without violating Medicare rules.

These healthcare workers can then perform the functions they are qualified and licensed for, while awaiting completion of federal paperwork requirements.

CMS is issuing waivers so that hospitals can use other practitioners, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, to the fullest extent possible, in accordance with a state’s emergency preparedness or pandemic plan. These clinicians can perform services such as order tests and medications that may have previously required a physician’s order where this is permitted under state law.

CMS is waiving the requirements that a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is under the supervision of a physician. This will allow CRNAs to function to the fullest extent allowed by the state, and free up physicians from the supervisory requirement and expand the capacity of both CRNAs and physicians.

CMS also is issuing a blanket waiver to allow hospitals to provide benefits and support to their medical staffs, such as multiple daily meals, laundry service for personal clothing, or child care services while the physicians and other staff are at the hospital and engaging in activities that benefit the hospital and its patients.

CMS will also allow healthcare providers (clinicians, hospitals and other institutional providers, and suppliers) to enroll in Medicare temporarily to provide care during the public health emergency.

  • Put Patients over Paperwork:

CMS is temporarily eliminating paperwork requirements and allowing clinicians to spend more time with patients. Medicare will now cover respiratory-related devices and equipment for any medical reason determined by clinicians so that patients can get the care they need; previously Medicare only covered them under certain circumstances.

During the public health emergency, hospitals will not be required to have written policies on processes and visitation of patients who are in COVID-19 isolation. Hospitals will also have more time to provide patients a copy of their medical record.

CMS is providing temporary relief from many audit and reporting requirements so that providers, healthcare facilities, Medicare Advantage health plans, Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, and states can focus on providing needed care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries affected by COVID-19.

This is being done by extending reporting deadlines and suspending documentation requests which would take time away from patient care.

  • Further Promote Telehealth in Medicare:

Building on prior action to expand reimbursement for telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries, CMS will now allow for more than 80 additional services to be furnished via telehealth. During the public health emergencies, individuals can use interactive apps with audio and video capabilities to visit with their clinician for an even broader range of services. Providers also can evaluate beneficiaries who have audio phones only.

These temporary changes will ensure that patients have access to physicians and other providers while remaining safely at home.

Providers can bill for telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits. Telehealth visits include emergency department visits, initial nursing facility and discharge visits, home visits, and therapy services, which must be provided by a clinician that is allowed to provide telehealth. New as well as established patients now may stay at home and have a telehealth visit with their provider.

CMS is allowing telehealth to fulfill many face-to-face visit requirements for clinicians to see their patients in inpatient rehabilitation facilities, hospice and home health.

CMS is making it clear that clinicians can provide remote patient monitoring services to patients with acute and chronic conditions, and can be provided for patients with only one disease. For example, remote patient monitoring can be used to monitor a patient’s oxygen saturation levels using pulse oximetry.

In addition, CMS is allowing physicians to supervise their clinical staff using virtual technologies when appropriate, instead of requiring in-person presence.

For additional background information on the waivers and rule changes, go to: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/additional-backgroundsweeping-regulatory-changes-help-us-healthcare-system-address-covid-19-patient

For more information on the COVID-19 waivers and guidance, and the Interim Final Rule, please go to the CMS COVID-19 flexibilities webpage: https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/emergency-preparedness-response-operations/current-emergencies/coronavirus-waivers.

These actions, and earlier CMS actions in response to COVID-19, are part of the ongoing White House Coronavirus Task Force efforts. To keep up with the important work the Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19, visit www.coronavirus.gov.  For a complete and updated list of CMS actions, and other information specific to CMS, please visit the Current Emergencies Website.

Pennsylvania’s Economy Is the 6th Most Exposed to Coronavirus – WalletHub Study

With the U.S. stock market having lost over 20 percent of its value and the U.S. government passing a historic $2 trillion stimulus package, WalletHub today released a report on the State Economies Most Exposed to Coronavirus, as well as accompanying videos.

To identify which states are most vulnerable economically, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 10 key metrics. The data set ranges from the share of employment by small businesses to the share of a state’s GDP coming from highly affected industries and increases in unemployment insurance claims. Below, you can see highlights from WalletHub’s report as well as a Q&A with WalletHub analysts.

Economic Exposure to Covid-19 in Pennsylvania (1=Best, 25=Avg.):

  • 16th – GDP Generated by High-Risk Industries as Share of Total State GDP
  • 20th – Share of Employment from Highly Impacted Industries
  • 10th – Increase in Number of Unemployment Insurance Initial Claims
  • 20th – Share of Workers Working from Home
  • 30th – Share of Workers with Access to Paid Sick Leave
  • 3rd – State Rainy Day Funds as Share of State Expenditures
  • 10th – State Fiscal Condition Index

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:
https://wallethub.com/edu/state-economies-most-exposed-to-coronavirus/72631/

Sweeping Regulatory Changes to Help U.S. Healthcare System Address COVID-19 Patient Surge

On Monday, March 30,, at President Trump’s direction, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today is issuing an unprecedented array of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules to equip the American healthcare system with maximum flexibility to respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Made possible by President Trump’s recent emergency declaration and emergency rule making, these temporary changes will apply immediately across the entire U.S. healthcare system for the duration of the emergency declaration. This allows hospitals and health systems to deliver services at other locations to make room for COVID-19 patients needing acute care in their main facility.

Learn more about the announcement by joining our national stakeholder call on Tuesday, March 31st at 12:00 PM EST to discuss the announcement. Here also is the webcast link:   https://protect2.fireeye.com/url?k=56ba1b23-0aee3208-56ba2a1c-0cc47a6d17cc-5cccd974ae4ce7ee&u=https://engage.vevent.com/rt/cms2/index.jsp?seid=1754

The changes complement and augment the work of FEMA and state and local public health authorities by empowering local hospitals and healthcare systems to rapidly expand treatment capacity that allows them to separate patients infected with COVID-19 from those who are not affected.

CMS’s temporary actions announced today empower local hospitals and healthcare systems to:

  • Increase Hospital Capacity – CMS Hospitals Without Walls;
  • Rapidly Expand the Healthcare Workforce;
  • Put Patients Over Paperwork; and
  • Further Promote Telehealth in Medicare

You can find a copy of the full press release here:  https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/trump-administration-makes-sweeping-regulatory-changes-help-us-healthcare-system-address-covid-19

For additional background information on the waivers and rule changes, go to: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/additional-backgroundsweeping-regulatory-changes-help-us-healthcare-system-address-covid-19-patient

For more information on the COVID-19 waivers and guidance, and the Interim Final Rule, please go to the CMS COVID-19 flexibilities webpage: https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/emergency-preparedness-response-operations/current-emergencies/coronavirus-waivers.

These actions, and earlier CMS actions in response to COVID-19, are part of the ongoing White House Coronavirus Task Force efforts. To keep up with the important work the Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19, visit www.coronavirus.gov.  For a complete and updated list of CMS actions, and other information specific to CMS, please visit the Current Emergencies Website.