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Setting Expectations for Unvaccinated Healthcare Personnel

On May 28, the CDC updated its guidance for fully vaccinated people in non-healthcare settings.  While this is good news for healthy independent living seniors and for our staff and their families, this guidance assumes that the prevalence of COVID in your communities is low and that people with compromised immune systems are continuing to minimize their risk of COVID exposure.  The high risk settings remain indoors with poor ventilation and large gatherings of people some of whom may not be vaccinated.  Indoor activities that increase COVID transmission risk include close gatherings with:  singing, shouting, and aerobic exercise.  

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Hospice in the Year of COVID-19

Every part of medicine has seen disruption in this past year and we have all had change forced upon us. In hospice we have struggled with our patients dying alone, the family frustrations of not being able to see their loved ones at end of life which is complicating their grief process. Many of our team members have been very removed from their ability to reach patients and this has added to the Hospice Team’s stress.

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CALTCM and COVID

CALTCM, to use a boxing term, has “punched above its weight” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. So many of our members have put in countless hours, all in service to our mission and vision, which is always worth noting:

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Tying Staff Recruitment and Retention to Racism

On May 17, CALTCM sponsored an excellent webinar on Systemic Racism and Microaggression in PALTC: A Call to Action.  This recording is available on the CALTCM website.  Some of the actions suggested by Dr. Philip Sloane were to create a universal Long-Term Care benefit, increased Medicaid rates, improved resourcing and support for low performing nursing homes, and increased pay and benefits for CNAs.  While likely to reduce racial disparities, these interventions are unlikely to occur in the near future.  We can hope MediCal rates may improve, especially if there are enhanced financial public reporting requirements for related ancillary businesses (as would occur if California’s AB 650 [Stern] were enacted). 

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Stepping Out of the Crosshairs

Crosshairs (noun); a pair of thin wires in the shape of a cross that you see when you look through a gunsight (Oxford Learners Dictionary, 2021). 

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An Interview With New CALTCM CEO David Quackenbush

The CALTCM Wave would like to take a few moments and introduce you to CALTCM’s new CEO, David Quackenbush.  Many of you have had the pleasure of being virtually introduced to David during the April 19 webinar, and below David shares more about his background and his vision for CALTCM.

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Will Requiring Greater Financial Transparency Improve Systemic Racism in Our Homes?

In April, a special article appeared in JAMDA (Journal of the American Medical Directors Association) titled, “Addressing Systemic Racism in Nursing Homes:  A time for Action”.  While this article is copyrighted, it may be worth purchasing if you are not already a subscriber.  Table 1 outlines the Structural/Institutional, Cultural, and Interpersonal manifestations of racism in our facilities.  Figure 2 outlines how these factors have operated at a policy and operational level.  

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AB 749

CALTCM’s Public Policy Committee has been quite busy over the past several months, advocating for our members and the residents we provide care for. We are the proud sponsors of AB 749, a bill that requires nursing home medical directors in California to be certified by the American Board of Post-Acute and Long Term Care Medicine. In the early days of the pandemic, some of us were faced with pressure to admit COVID patients to our facilities. CALTCM members warned that “if you send us five, we’ll send you back 20 within a week.” Sadly, we were prophetically right. Many of us also advocated testing of all staff in order to identify outbreaks early. Because of our training, we knew what to do, and we had varying levels of success in limiting outbreaks at our facilities. Our actions saved lives.

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Are Our COVID-19 Vaccines Safe and Effective?

Yesterday, the CDC’s HAN (Health Alert Network) issued a detailed report regarding their recommendation to pause administration of the Janssen (J&J) vaccine (see link to this report).  The CDC has now received VAERS reports from 6 women ages 18-48 of serious clotting events after the administration of 6.85 million doses of this vaccine (as of 4/12/21).  These events appear to have been triggered by the development of platelet-activating antibodies against platelet factor 4 (PF4), which is also known as heparin-PF4 antibody.  This may trigger Vaccine-induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITTP) which can have serious CNS consequences (1 death so far).  This association is quite rare at ~ 1 case per million vaccinations.  A similar problem has been seen with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is also a viral vector vaccine (AD26), but hasn’t been seen in the USA or internationally with the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines.  The key issue for the CDC and ACIP at this point, is the possible under-reporting of this association.  Because these events occurred 6-13 days after vaccination, the development of this rare problem may not have been linked to the vaccine.  Hopefully this HAN report will bring in more VAERS reports to allow the CDC to provide more precise information on the real risk of this event in persons receiving the Janssen vaccine.  To put this preliminary risk in perspective, the known risk of “unvaccinated persons” aged 18-48 dying of SARS-CoV2 is 125/million, which is a vastly greater than the risk of acquiring (much less of dying) of VITTP.  

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Skilled Nursing Facility Transparency and Accountability

Californians spent more than $11 billion on nursing home care in 2019 but low nurse staffing levels and quality of care problems have persisted in many homes over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these staffing and quality problems and resulted in over 61,000 resident infections, about 9,000 resident deaths, and over 50,000 staffing infections by February 2021.  While nursing homes claim that payment rates are inadequate to improve staffing and improve care, it is not clear how the current nursing home payments are being spent.  Nursing homes often use complex ownership structures to shift money to “related parties,” such as corporate home offices, property companies, and management companies and to hide profits and support facilities’ claims for increased public funding.  

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The Option for Virtual Medical Encounters Should Stay

Last December, I provided vacation coverage for a physician with a PA/LTC practice.  Because of the pandemic, I obtained the agreement of the facility administrative team, that our first approach to changes of condition (COC) would be a telemedicine visit, rather than the usual triage by fax or phone. 

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Mandating COVID-19 Vaccination

With the remarkable efficacy of the mRNA vaccines and the newly available one shot, standard refrigeration Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) vaccine, many in long-term care are wondering if healthcare personnel (HCP) should be mandated to receive vaccines.

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Family Motivates Vaccine Acceptance

San Diego’s nursing home residents were early recipients of the coronavirus vaccine. In recent weeks, most nursing home seniors and staff eagerly lined up to be vaccinated at their facility by either CVS or Walgreens. Nursing home staff members also shared with me that some people felt hesitant about receiving the vaccine.

The Population Health team uses motivational interviewing skills that incorporate certain words, phrases, and motivators to engage and encourage patients to complete all needed care and immunizations. Recently the Public Health Communication Collaborative shared a national poll entitled “The Language of Vaccine Acceptance." The poll identifies the language most effective to improve confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

Family is by far the most powerful motivator word for vaccine acceptance. Significantly, more Americans said they would be more willing to take the vaccine “for my family" as opposed to “for my country" or “for the economy." The wording and reasons demonstrated to be most convincing were:



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Should Your Facility Have a Low Threshold for De-Prescribing PPIs?

Pantoprazole and other proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are commonly started in the acute hospital setting and then continued in the post-acute and long-term care (PALTC) setting of care without a clear ongoing indication.  PPIs have an acid rebound withdrawal syndrome, so patients previously without GI acid symptoms may develop them, if PPIs are abruptly stopped, reinforcing the patient’s perception that they now need a PPI. 

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In The News: Questions About Five-Star Ratings

The NY Times research illustrates what we have known for a few years now. A nursing home’s Care Compare 5-Star rating is both a quality measure and a financial measure. And a nursing home QAPI committee that focuses on their Care Compare rating and implements performance improvement projects based on their ratings has the spillover effect of also improving their bottom line.

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Let’s Work Together

In the recent JAGS article- Montoya A, Jenq G, Mills J, et al. Partnering with Local Hospitals and Public Health to Manage COVID-19 Outbreaks in Nursing Homes (J Am Geriatr 2021; 69(1):30-36), a COVID-19 outbreak investigation in Michigan skilled nursing facilities was the spark for a collaboration of interest to our members. Following the outbreak, testing was performed to determine the in-house prevalence of COVID-19. Residents testing positive for the virus were then divided into cohorts in COVID-19-dedicated units. The article shows the importance of investing in stakeholder relationships and open lines of communication. California health systems should anticipate requests for help from SNFs, and should proactively reach out in response. SNF leaders and staff have experience in providing care for medically complicated elders with functional and cognitive support needs. In turn, SNFs would greatly benefit from help provided by local health systems in terms of infectious disease experts, personal protective equipment (PPE), access to testing, and clear communication protocols during transitions to and from nursing homes. In addition, the importance of integrating nursing home data with other healthcare data is emphasized. Examples of best practices to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on SNF residents, as described in this article, should inspire healthcare stakeholders to create meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships across settings to improve patient care. 

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CALTCM President’s Letter: March 2021

I wanted to start this year with a grateful word of thanks to all of our CALTCM members. Our CALTCM friends and family are leaders in medicine, nursing, administration, pharmacy, social services, ombudsman, and more who believe in quality and safety in post-acute and long-term care.  Your efforts help CALTCM serve as the medical voice of long-term care in California.  Your work through the pandemic has been heroic and the sacrifices have been many.  

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A Vaccine Story on the Power of Community Engagement

January was a record month for the greatest number of COVID Deaths in Sonoma County and 65% of those deaths were in senior congregate living facilities. Meanwhile, a large local continuing care retirement community (CCRC) didn't receive its first vaccinations until January 31.  Only 20 of our 176 assisted living facilities even have a date set. Crista Nelson, our head of Senior Advocacy Services, estimated that at this rate most of our residential care facilities wouldn't be vaccinated until July.  Fortunately, over the last 2 weeks, a huge collaborative effort between CDPH, Public Health, Local Pharmacies, Local hospital systems, and adjacent county providers, the situation has dramatically improved.  By the end this month, most of the residents and healthcare workers who want to be vaccinated will have received at least their first vaccine injection.  In addition, the Kaiser Team and a home care agency have been approved for making house calls on homebound persons and their caregivers.  Prisoners are also receiving vaccines.  This ramping up of the delivery of vaccines wouldn't have been possible without the heroic efforts of our public health department and the trusting relationships that have developed in this community over the course of the pandemic.  At a federal level, improving production and delivery of vaccines to the states has been huge.  We are now in the position of identifying which facilities need more help with staff vaccine hesitancy.  I've attached an excellent presentation on the subject of vaccine hesitancy provided by UCSF's Dr. Bryn Boslett, who was able to comment on the importance of the vaccine in pregnant healthcare workers by her own experience.  In Sonoma County, what once looked bleak, is now an example of what an engaged and coordinated healthcare community can achieve. 

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Gratitude

As a clinician, we are often thanked by our patients and staff. This is such a beautiful and simple way of acknowledging and appreciating others. I have always been surprised with how wonderful I have felt when a little appreciation is shown. Gratitude in our daily lives for others is so important not only for the person receiving, but even more for the person who is saying thanks.  Actions of humility have more benefit to our well being than getting ego-boosts. When we take an active role in our lives to be thankful, it puts us in a higher frequency with the universe. 

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Who will be a “Friend” to the “Unbefriended”?

I appreciate our readers who have pointed out that the term "unbefriended" in this article may be interpreted as a demeaning term, since many of these unrepresented patients are no longer able to access their prior friendship / family network and besides that, the key issue is they no longer have decisional capacity and do not have an identifiable representative.  In this day of implicit bias, I appreciate our readers who hold us to a higher standard for our communications that address problems in the delivery of healthcare in our state.  I also did receive feedback that the California Hospital Association is aware of this problem and is working with CDPH, CALTCM, and other stakeholders to identify acceptable patient advocates.  Several physicians have suggested recruiting local retired physicians through their medical societies.  Another has suggested developing a grant proposal at a county level to develop a patient advocate program.  I hope these ideas take hold, for our facilities really do need help accessing capable patient representatives for this relatively common problem.

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