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Introducing the CALTCM White Paper on Nursing Home Staffing

“Now is not the time for additional ‘studies’ to assess the importance of appropriate staffing levels. The combination of inadequate staffing and disparities can only lead to more tragic situations and outcomes, such as those recently seen during the latest hurricane in Louisiana.”  Thus begins CALTCM’s “White Paper on Nursing Home Staffing.”  CALTCM is the medical voice for long term care in California.  Our public policy committee developed this White Paper with the intention of making recommendations based on evidence-based literature.  It was not our intention to debate the financial impact of our recommendations or where nursing staff will come from, given the current huge workforce shortage issues.  We stand for quality care in nursing homes. We absolutely understand many of the issues that have put nursing home care in the precarious state that the COVID-19 pandemic has tragically highlighted. Those issues need to be debated and those problems addressed, but that does not change the existing evidence.  Our White Paper presents the evidence. We’re ready and willing to have a debate over the evidence, though we think it’s more important to have a vigorous discussion on how to finance these recommendations and find the nurses and nursing assistants needed to fulfill these requirements. 

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Celebrating AB 749

Dr. Dan Osterweil recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from CALTCM.  During the same week, Governor Newsom signed AB 749, which was authored by Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys), Chair of the California State Assembly Aging and Long-Term Care Committee. That these two events occurred together was a poetic coincidence.  For many years Dr. Osterweil has championed the concept of a “medical director utility.” He regularly encouraged many of us to advocate more vociferously for medical directors.  This became the inspiration behind CALTCM’s effort to enhance the role of the nursing home medical director.

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Bridging Differences

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Alert: 1418.8 (Epple) Decision-Making July 2021

ALERT: Requirement for Patient Representative is delayed 12 more months for 1418.8 (Epple) decision-making.

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Deadline for Mandatory Patient Representative on IDT Looms

California’s nursing facilities are anxiously awaiting any word about the requirement for a non-facility-affiliated patient representative to serve on every interdisciplinary team (IDT) convened to make decisions on behalf of an unrepresented, incapacitated resident.  It is hoped that a further delay will be granted for enforcement of this requirement (see below).  Under Health & Safety Code 1418.8 (the “Epple Law”), the IDT has been able to make decisions for such residents since the 1990s, but a 2013 lawsuit (CANHR v. Chapman and subsequent CDPH directors) resulted in a decision that brought that ability into question.  

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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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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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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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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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Building Vaccine Confidence

When COVID-19 exploded last March, my community went to work attempting to keep COVID out of our facilities.  We developed county-wide virtual learning collaboratives for Assisted Living (AL) communities and for SNFs, which met on a weekly basis.  By the end of June, we had done well with no outbreaks and only 4 deaths in the county.  Unfortunately, last summer’s surge in COVID prevalence shattered the myth that we had done enough to contain it.  Like the rest of our state, we pivoted to follow guidance focused more on infection control and early recognition of outbreaks.  By the end of October, we seemed to be back in the driver’s seat with much better facility COVID metrics.  However, with the winter surge, we are stretched thin on staff, resources, and again wondering when the bad news will end.  In my county, we have now have had 196 deaths, and 70% of them have occurred in senior congregate living facilities.  

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COVID-19 Vaccines are Arriving!

Since the SARS CoV-2 virus arrived in the USA last winter, our lives have been disrupted in many ways.  We are currently in a Winter Surge that has locked down most of the state.  The latest statistics on COVID activity show a doubling or tripling of cases in most of California in the month of December, which greatly increases the risk of outbreaks in our post-acute and long-term care settings.  As of 12/10, the USA had 15.6 million confirmed cases and 294,000 deaths.  Though only 6% of the cases have been in post-acute and long-term care (PALTC), including skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and assisted living communities (AL), our residents have had a hugely disproportionate 34% of the deaths.  As of Friday, December 11, over 100,000 persons with COVID in the USA were hospitalized and 21,000 were in ICU beds. In California, we had 33.500 new cases reported over the preceding day.  

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Local Interventions to Address Workforce Shortage

Prior to the pandemic, most of the SNFs in Sonoma County had applied for waivers, because they weren’t able to staff CNAs at the required 2.4 FTE state standard.  I heard one administrator comment that the website “Indeed.com” had become a main source for attracting CNAs from other SNFs.  In our area, we do have a training program for CNAs through partnerships of facilities with the Red Cross and the local community college, but the number of CNAs attracted to this track has been small.  Since the COVID pandemic, our CNA shortage has been aggravated by concern for personal safety, complicated sick leave policies, inconsistent work hours, and the realization that those working in multiple facilities had a much higher risk of transmitting COVID.  

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To Mask or Not to Mask: A Matter of Opinion

On October 19, 2020, an article in the Wall Street Journal was written observing that some governors in States with surges of COVID are still insisting that masking in public settings should be a personal decision.  This conflicts with the public health guidance of CDC, CDPH, and our Governor, but is still an issue in the public domain in our state where it’s common to observe people in public without a face mask, or wearing the mask under the nose or mouth.  This may not only increase the risk of our health care providers (HCP) acquiring COVID, but data are emerging to suggest that those who acquire COVID while not wearing a mask have a greater dose exposure to COVID, and are likely to become sicker.  

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Utilizing Artificial Intelligence for Falls Management in PA/LTC: Now recruiting for study sites!

Each year, more than one in four older adults aged 65 and older will fall. Among older Americans, falls are the number one cause of injuries and death from injury (1). This represents 29 million falls, 3 million emergency department (ED) visits, 800,000 hospitalizations, and 28,000 deaths. As the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults, falls will continue to soar, as America’s baby boomers grow older (2).

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Does Deprescribing Improve Function in Older Persons?

Deprescribing involves a systematic review of medications and identifying those medications with a high potential risk of harm and low benefit to the individual patient when incorporating the goals of care, safety, life expectancy, values, patient preferences, and level of functioning into the decision-making for discontinuing medications.1   According to Scott, et.al., an alternative definition of deprescribing includes: “Deprescribing is not about denying effective treatment to eligible patients. It is a positive, patient-centered intervention with inherent uncertainties, and requires shared decision-making, informed patient consent and close monitoring of effects.” 

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Advance Care Planning & Palliative Care Important During Pandemic: CDPH

On September 22, 2020, the California Department of Public Health posted this all-facilities letter (AFL 20-73), available at https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CHCQ/LCP/Pages/AFL-20-78.aspx.  This letter provides guidance to nursing homes about the importance of person-centered advance care planning, including ensuring that current treatment preferences in light of COVID-19 are reflected in up-to-date treatment orders.  

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