Tag: COVID-19 coronavirus

HRSA Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Updates

From HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

What’s New

HRSA Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network Program – applications due March 18.  HRSA anticipates awards for more than 30 community-based organizations that will join an effort to train and place public health professionals in rural and tribal areas.  Eligible applicants include minority-serving institutions of higher education, Critical Access Hospitals, community health centers, nursing homes, Rural Health Clinics, substance use providers, and state or local workforce development boards.  Each grantee will receive approximately $1.5 million for a three-year project.  FORHP will hold a webinar for applicants on Wednesday, January 5 at 1:00 pm ET.  For those unable to view online, see the Events section below for dial-in information.

HRSA Rural Residency Planning and Development (RRPD) Program  – deadline extended until January 11. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) revised the program sustainability requirements and extended the deadline for RRPD grant applications. Applicants should review the changes and can resubmit their applications if needed. HRSA will only review your last submitted application. This program aims to increase opportunities for physicians to train in rural residencies. A total of $10.5 million will develop 14 new rural residency programs accredited by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Eligible applicants include rural hospitals, GME consortiums, and tribal organizations. For questions, email RuralResidency@hrsa.gov.

HRSA Small Health Care Provider Quality Improvement Program Funding Opportunity – applications due March 21. HRSA will be making approximately 40 awards of up to $200,000 each to support the planning and implementation of quality improvement activities in rural communities. Applicants must be rural domestic public or private nonprofit entities with demonstrated experience serving, or the capacity to serve, rural underserved populations in a HRSA-designated rural area. FORHP will hold a technical assistance webinar for applicants via Zoom on Wednesday, January 26, 2022 from 2-3 p.m. ET. A recording will be available for those who cannot attend.

Share Your Experiences on Rural Emergency Preparedness and ResponseThe Rural Health Information Hub (RHIhub)  wants to hear about how rural communities, health care facilities, public health departments, first responders, tribes, rural serving organizations, and others have had to adapt, collaborate, and innovate in the face of disasters and public health emergencies. They are looking for examples of lessons learned, successes, challenges, or other helpful information to highlight related to emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for a variety of disasters. Examples will be shared in an emergency preparedness toolkit on the RHIhub website.

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters.  All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster.  Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers.  In June 2021, HRSA launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder.  Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019.  Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted.  Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.


COVID-19 Resources

NARHC Assistance with Federal Programs for COVID-19 Testing, Vaccine Distribution, and Provider Relief FundThe National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC) has background information and guidelines in its collection of technical assistance webinars for all COVID-related programs designated for Rural Health Clinics.

Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Resources for COVID-19.  A set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from our grantees and stakeholders.

Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Distribution (RHCVD) Program.  Under the program, Medicare-certified RHCs will receive direct COVID-19 vaccines in addition to their normal jurisdictions’ weekly allocation.  Contact RHCVaxDistribution@hrsa.gov for more information.

Community Toolkit for Addressing Health Misinformation. The new resource asks for participation from individuals, teachers, school administrators, librarians, faith leaders, and health care professionals to understand, identify, and stop the spread of misinformation.  The toolkit includes common types of misinformation and a checklist to help evaluate the accuracy of health-related content.

Online Resource for Licensure of Health Professionals.  As telehealth usage increased during the pandemic, FORHP funded new work with the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards to reduce the burden of multi-state licensure.  The site provides up-to-date information on emergency regulation and licensing in each state for psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists assistants, and social workers.

HRSA COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund.  HRSA will provide claims reimbursement at the national Medicare rate for eligible health care providers administering vaccines to underinsured individuals.

HHS Facts About COVID Care for the Uninsured. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) helps uninsured individuals find no-cost COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines.  The HRSA Uninsured Program provides claims reimbursement to health care providers generally at Medicare rates for testing, treating, and administering vaccines to uninsured individuals, including undocumented immigrants.  There are at-a-glance fact sheets for providers and for patients in English and Spanish.

CDC COVID-19 Updates.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides daily updates and guidance, including a section specific to rural health careCOVID-19 Vaccination Trainings for new and experienced providers, and Tips for Talking with Patients about COVID-19 Vaccination.

HHS/DoD National Emergency Tele-Critical Care Network.  A joint program of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is available at no cost to hospitals caring for COVID-19 patients and struggling with access to enough critical care physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other specialized clinical experts. Teams of critical care clinicians are available to deliver virtual care through telemedicine platforms, such as an app on a mobile device. Hear from participating clinicians, and email to learn more and sign up.

Mobilizing Health Care Workforce via Telehealth.  ProviderBridge.org was created by the Federation of State Medical Boards through the CARES Act and the FORHP-supported Licensure Portability Grant Program. The site provides up-to-date information on emergency regulation and licensing by state as well as a provider portal to connect volunteer health care professionals to state agencies and health care entities.

New: Reaching Farm Communities for Vaccine Confidence.  The AgriSafe Network is a nonprofit organization that provides information and training on injury and disease related to agriculture.  Their health professionals and educators created a social media toolkit that aims to provide clear messages about COVID-19 vaccination for agriculture, forestry, and fishing workers.


Funding and Opportunities

SAMHSA Grants for Rural Emergency Medical Services Training – February 14.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will make 27 awards of up to $200,000 each to recruit and train emergency medical services (EMS) personnel with a focus on mental and substance use disorders.  Eligible applicants are rural EMS agencies operated by a local or tribal government and non-profit EMS agencies.


Policy Updates

Send questions to ruralpolicy@hrsa.gov.

Medicare Rule Adds 1,000 Physician Residency Slots and Other GME Policies.  Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized several graduate medical education (GME) proposals that will enhance the health care workforce and fund additional medical residency positions in hospitals serving rural and underserved communities.  This Fiscal Year 2022 Medicare Inpatient Hospital Payment Final Rule adds 1,000 new Medicare-funded residency positions prioritizing hospitals that serve areas with the greatest needs. It also allows new opportunities for rural teaching hospitals participating in an accredited rural training track to increase their full time equivalent (FTE) caps.  The rule also allows hospitals beginning a new medical residency training program to reset their FTE caps and per-resident amounts under qualifying circumstances.  Rural hospitals seeking a cap reset must start new residency training programs by December 2025.  Finally, CMS seeks comments on alternative methods to prioritize additional FTE resident cap slots and the review process to determine eligibility for per resident amounts or FTE cap resets in specified situations.

CMS Suspends Enforcement of Vaccine Mandate While Court Ordered Injunctions Remain in Effect (pdf). This month, CMS issued a memo to State Survey Agency Directors indicating that the agency will not enforce the new rule stipulating vaccination for health care workers in certified Medicare/Medicaid providers and suppliers (including nursing facilities, hospitals, dialysis facilities and all other provider types covered by the rule). Health care facilities may voluntarily choose to comply with the Interim Final Rule at this time.


Learning Events and Technical Assistance

Assistance for Rural Public Health Workforce Funding Applications – Wednesday, January 5 at 1:00 pm ET.  FORHP will hold a one-hour webinar via Zoom for those applying for the Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network Program.  Applications are due March 18th for the grant that will invest $48 million to place newly trained public health professionals in rural areas.  To dial in:  1-833-568-8864; Participant Code: 86083981. Contact RPHWTNP@hrsa.gov for more information or a recording of the webinar.


Resource of the Week

Federally Qualified Health Centers and the Health Center ProgramThis recently updated topic guide at the Rural Health Information Hub includes new FAQs on Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services, insight on financial and operational performances of health centers, and the differences between a Federally Qualified Health Center and a Rural Health Clinic.


Approaching Deadlines

Last Day for RHCs to Spend COVID-19 Testing Funds – December 31

Department of Labor Stand Down Grants for Veterans Services – December 31

USDA Guaranteed Loans for Rural Rental Housing – December 31

COVID-19 Extension for Medicare Graduate Medical Education (GME) Affiliation Agreement  – January 1

Treasury Department New Markets Tax Credit Program – January 3

CDC Grants for New Investigators/Research for Interpersonal Violence Impacting Children/Youth – January 4

HRSA Family-to-Family Health Information Centers (F2F HICs)  – January 5

NIHB/CDC Building Capacity for Tribal Infection Control – January 7

Nominations Sought for Indigenous Health Equity Committee – extended to January 7

NIH Research for AI/AN End-of-Life Care – January 8

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Seed Grants for Climate Change and Health – January 10

USDA Farm to School Grants – January 10

HHS Grants for Family Planning Services – January 11

HRSA Rural Residency Planning and Development (RRPD) Program – extended to January 11

HRSA Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program – January 13

HRSA Nurse Faculty Loan Program – January 13

HRSA Rural Communities Opioid Response Program – Implementation – January 13

SAMHSA Grants for Rural Emergency Medical Services Training – February 14

CDC Research on Telehealth Strategies for PrEP and ART – January 18

Comments Requested: DEA Regulation of Telepharmacy Practice – January 18

NIH Researching Behavioral Risk Factors for Cancer in Rural Populations – January 18

Department of Labor YouthBuild Program – January 21

CDC Centers for Agricultural Safety and Health – January 24

ACL Empowering Communities for Chronic Disease Self-Management – January 25

ACL Empowering Communities to Deliver and Sustain Falls Prevention Programs – January 25

CDC Seeking Public Input on Work-Related Stress for Health Workers – Extended to January 25

HRSA Delta Region Rural Health Workforce Training Program – January 25

CDC Cancer Prevention and Control for State, Territorial, and Tribal Organizations – January 26

HRSA Access to HIV Services for Women and Children – January 28

HRSA Rural Health Network Development Planning Program – January 28

HHS COVID-19 and Health Equity Impact Fellowship – extended to January 31

HHS Technology Challenge for Racial Equity in Postpartum Care – January 31

HRSA Centers of Excellence for Training Minorities in Health Professions – January 31

SAMHSA-American Psychiatric Association Diversity Leadership Fellowship – January 31

HRSA Leadership Education in Adolescent Health – February 1

Indian Health Service Forensic Healthcare Services for Domestic Violence Prevention – February 2

Indian Health Service Substance Abuse and Suicide Prevention Program – February 2

Indian Health Service Zero Suicide Initiative – February 2

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Programs – Extended to February 3

CDC Research to Prevent Firearm-Related Violence and Injuries – February 4

RWJF Summer Health Professions Education Program for Underrepresented Minorities – February 5

HRSA Predoctoral Training in Public Health Dentistry and Dental Hygiene – February 7

SAMHSA Harm Reduction Program – February 7

VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families – February 7

USDA Farm and Food Worker Relief Grants – February 8

IHS Tribal Self-Governance Negotiation – February 10

IHS Tribal Self-Governance Planning – February 10

CDC Strengthening Infection Prevention – February 11

CDC Evaluating Substance Use Prevention Incorporating ACEs Prevention – February 22

HRSA Mobile Health Training – Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention – February 22

USDA Rural eConnectivity Broadband Loan and Grant Program – February 22

Rural Communities Opioid Response Program-Behavioral Health Care Technical Assistance (RCORP-BHCTA) – March 9

HRSA Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network Program – March 18

HRSA Small Health Care Provider Quality Improvement Program – March 21

FCC/USAC Rural Health Care Connect Fund – April 1

FCC/USAC Telecommunications Program – April 1

USDA Local Food Purchase Assistance Program – April 5


Ongoing Opportunities

CFPB Rental Assistance Finder

HHS/DoD National Emergency Tele-Critical Care Network

Extended Public Comment Period for FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program

FCC Emergency Broadband for Individuals and Households

FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance

HRSA Payment Program for Buprenorphine-Trained Clinicians – Until Funds Run Out

AgriSafe Nurse Scholar Program – March 2022

AHRQ Health Services Research Demonstration and Dissemination Grants – September 2022

AHRQ Research to Improve Patient Transitions through HIT – December 2022

American Indian Public Health Resource Center Technical Assistance

ASA Rural Access to Anesthesia Care Scholarship

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Seed Grants for Climate Change and Health – Quarterly through August 2023

CDC Direct Assistance to State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Health Agencies

CDC Training Pediatric Medical Providers to Recognize ACEs

Delta Region Community Health Systems Development Program

Department of Commerce American Rescue Plan Funding for Indigenous Communities – September 2022

Department of Commerce: Economic Development Assistance Programs

Department of Labor Dislocated Worker Grants

DRA Technical Assistance for Delta Region Community Health Systems Development

EPA Drinking Water State Revolving Fund

FEMA/SAMHSA Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP)

GPHC & RWJF: Rapid Cycle Research and Evaluation Grants for Cross-Sector Alignment

HRSA Technical Assistance for Look-Alike Initial Designation for the Health Center Program

Housing Assistance Council: Housing Loans for Low-Income Rural Communities

HUD Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program

IHS Tribal Forensic Healthcare Training

IHS/DOD Medical Supplies and Equipment for Tribes (Project TRANSAM)

NARHC Certified Rural Health Clinic Professional Course

NIH Project Talk Initiative Host Site Applications

NIH Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health – May 2022

NIH Practice-Based Research for Primary Care Suicide Prevention – June 2022

NIH Research – Alcohol and Other Substance Use – Various Dates Through August 2022

NIH Research: Intervening with Cancer Caregivers to Improve Patient Outcomes – September 8, 2022

NIH Research on Minority Health/Health Disparities – September 8, 2022

NIH Research on Palliative Care in Home/Community Settings – September 8, 2022

NIH Intervention Research to Improve Native American Health – Various Dates Until September 2023

NIH Researching the Role of Work in Health Disparities – Various Dates Until September 2024

NIH Special Interest Research – Pandemic Impact on Vulnerable Children and Youth – May 2024

Nominations for Federal Advisory Commission on HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Nominations for National Advisory Committee on Migrant Health

Primary Care Development Corporation Community Investment Loans

Rural Graduate Medical Education Planning and Development

RWJF Investigator-Initiated Research to Build a Culture of Health

RWJF Pioneering Ideas Brief Proposals

SBA Guaranteed Loans for Small Business

Southeast Rural Community Assistance Loans

Tribal Grant Writing Training

USDA Community Facilities Program

USDA Community Food Projects Technical Assistance

USDA Drinking Water and Waste Disposal for Rural and Native Alaskan Villages

USDA Economic Impact Initiative Grants

USDA Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants

USDA Healthy Food Financing Initiative Technical Assistance

USDA Intermediary Relending Program

USDA Rural Business Development Grants

USDA Rural Business Investment Program

USDA Rural Energy Savings Program

USDA SEARCH – Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households (for Water/Waste Projects)

USDA Summer Food Program

USDA Technical Assistance for Healthy Food Financing Initiative

USDA Telecommunications Infrastructure Loans

USDA Funding for Rural Water and Waste Disposal Projects

USDOT Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (R.O.U.T.E.S)


The Announcements from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy are distributed weekly. To receive these updates, send an email with “Subscribe” in the subject line.

 

5th Circuit Lifts Injunction on CMS Mandatory Vaccine Requirement for Half of U.S.

On December 15, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling which modifies an earlier court national injunction related to the CMS mandatory vaccination rules.  In the latest ruling, the court upheld the injunction issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri as it applied to the fourteen (14) plaintiff states, Louisiana, Montana, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio.  However, it overturned the lower court’s expansion of that injunction to other, non-plaintiff states, in the injunction.  Meaning that between the 5th and 8th Circuit Court rulings, the CMS mandatory vaccination injunction only applies to the following 24 states:

5th Circuit Plaintiffs: Louisiana, Montana, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio

8th Circuit Plaintiffs: Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

States not covered by the CMS mandatory vaccination injunction:

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin

This decision, follows another mandatory vaccine related decision issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit which criticized the Louisiana court for expanding the CMS vaccine mandate nationwide given that a Florida District Court had already refused to issue an injunction and because it felt that it was likely that the mandate was likely authorized under current CMS rules.

What does this mean for employers?

If you are an employer in one of the states not covered by an injunction, you should consult with any covered healthcare facility that your organization performs services under contract. These covered healthcare facilities will be required to mandate vaccination for their staff and for any contractor staff that interacts with their employees or patients.  Additionally, they will be seeking proof that your staff is vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they have a protected medical or religious accommodation.

Employers should have already taken the initial steps toward compliance with the CMS mandatory vaccination rules, including having a list of all employees with their vaccination status.  Additionally, employers should have an established policy related to mandatory vaccination and a procedure for requesting and processing an exception/accommodation requests. Lastly, healthcare institutions may independently institute mandatory vaccination rules for their employees and can require this of anyone entering their facility, including EMS staff.

We will continue to keep you post as these cases proceed through the legal system. These facilities may still independently require your staff to be vaccinated. If your organization has questions or need assistance deciphering or preparing for these requirements, please contact the AAA by emailing hello@ambulance.org.

 

 

 

Federal Court Enjoins the CMS Mandatory Vaccine Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)

On Monday, November 29, 2021, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri – Eastern Division has issued a preliminary injunction staying the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Mandatory Vaccination Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) which were set to take effect on January 4, 2022. This preliminary injunction currently only applies to healthcare providers in the plaintiff states.

On November 10, 2021, the States of Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, and New Hampshire filed a nine (9) count complaint in the United States Court for the Eastern District of Missouri seeking relief from the CMS Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) which requires certain certified healthcare facilities to mandate COVID-19 vaccination of all employees, contractors, and those performing services “under arrangement.”  The complaint alleged that the ETS violates numerous provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), the Social Security Act (SSA), that CMS failed to consult with the state agencies that would be charged with enforcing such a mandate, failure to perform an impact analysis of the new rules, and several other Constitutional violations.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Matthew T. Schelp, agreed with the plaintiffs that a preliminary injunction was warranted because it posed an irreparable harm and that the plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their complaint. The thirty-two (32) page ruling cites that Congress did not give CMS the authority to enact the mandatory vaccination regulations, nor authorized CMS to issue regulations that pre-empt validly enacted state legislation that contradict these new rules. The court believed that the plaintiffs would likely be able to show that CMS violated numerous administrative and rulemaking procedures.

Throughout the ruling the court cited the likelihood of significant harm to state sovereignty and how the implementation of the rule’s requirements would cause substantial economic harm to both the states and the healthcare facilities. Not only through the cost of implementation but also through the impact to a healthcare facility’s ability to provide care due to employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

This ruling is only applicable to covered healthcare facilities in the states of Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, and New Hampshire. It is unknown if the stay will be expanded to other jurisdictions. Additionally, the OSHA Vaccination & Testing ETS is currently enjoined and OHSA has announced that they will halt implementation and enforcement associated with those rules. Despite these rulings, many EMS employers are subject to the mandatory vaccination requirements under the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors.

I advise employers to take the initial steps toward compliance while these cases proceed through the legal system. EMS employers are already required to have policies and procedures to determine and maintain a log of their employee’s vaccination status. Additionally, many EMS employers have already been contacted by their contracted healthcare facilities who have enacted a vaccine mandate, either prior to, or in response to the CMS ETS.  These facilities may still independently require your staff to be vaccinated.

I recognize that these are incredibly challenging times. If your organization has questions or need assistance deciphering or preparing for these requirements, please contact the AAA by emailing hello@ambulance.org.

 

Federal Government Releases COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement Rules: CMS and OSHA Outline Requirements for Certain Health Care Providers and Certain Employers

by Scott Moore, J.D. & Kathy Lester, J.D. M.P.H.

Today, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), released the highly anticipated mandatory COVID-19 vaccination regulations for employers with 100 or more employees and new COVID-19 vaccination requirements in the Conditions of Participation (COPs)/Conditions for Coverage (CfCs).

OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination Regulations

A summary of the new rules can be found on the OSHA website.  Under this latest rule, OSHA stated that any employer who is subject to the Healthcare ETS released in June, 2021 is not subject to the Vaccination and Testing ETS.  This would include many EMS employers.  However, healthcare employers should refer to the Healthcare ETS to ensure that they are in compliance with those requirements.

It is important for EMS employers to note, where they have “healthcare support services”, as defined under §1910.502(vi) of the Healthcare ETS, that are not subject to the Healthcare ETS because these employees are segregated in non-healthcare settings (stand-alone administrative facilities), those employees will be subject to the requirements Vaccination and Testing ETS.

There was nothing in the latest ETS that prevents employers from instituting a mandatory vaccination requirement for its employees.  Many EMS employers are already required to mandate vaccination under a state or local law.  These employers may continue to require vaccinations for its employees.

CMS COVID-19 Health Staff Vaccination Rule

CMS also released an Interim Final Rule with Comment (IFC) governing health care staff vaccination requirements, as well as a Press Release, Fact Sheet, and Frequently Asked Questions.  While the IFC regulations do not directly apply to ground ambulance suppliers, the definition of staff that includes individuals contracted with or that have other arrangements with facilities directly regulated will be indirectly subject to the rules through their arrangements with the facilities.  For example, an EMS service that has no contract or arrangement with any of the directly covered health care facilities listed below should not be subject to the CMS requirements.  However, a ground ambulance service that has a contract with a nursing home to provide interfacility transports, for example, would be indirectly affected because of the requirement on the nursing home to ensure that contractors meet the vaccine requirements.  Additionally, there the regulations do not prevented a health care facility from creating their own requirements on vendors that do not have an existing contract with the facility.

The ICF amends the existing Conditions or Participation / Conditions for Coverage for the following facilities:

  • Ambulatory Surgery Centers;
  • Community Mental Health Centers;
  • Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities;
  • Critical Access Hospitals;
  • End-Stage Renal Disease Facilities;
  • Home Health Agencies;
  • Home Infusion Therapy Suppliers;
  • Hospices;
  • Hospitals;
  • Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities, Clinics, Rehabilitation Agencies, and Public Health Agencies as Providers of Outpatient Physical Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology Services;
  • Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs);
  • Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly Organizations (PACE);
  • Rural Health Clinics/Federally Qualified Health Centers; and
  • Long Term Care facilities.

The IFC requires facilities to develop and implement policies and procedures to ensure that all staff are fully vaccinated for COVID-19.  Exclusions from the requirement are permitted for staff (or contactors) who have pending requests for, or who have been granted, exceptions to the vaccine requirements or those staff for whom COVID-19 vaccinations must be temporarily delayed, as recommended by the CDC, due to clinical precautions and considerations.

Staff is defined to include employees, as well as licensed practitioners, students, trainees, volunteers, and “[i]ndividuals who provide care, treatment, or other services for the facility and/or its patients, under contract or by other arrangement.”

The IFC excludes (1) staff that exclusively provide telehealth/telemedicine services outside of the facility setting and that do not have direct contact with patients and (2) staff that provide support services exclusively outside of the facility setting and that do not have direct contact with patients.

The IFC defines an individual as fully vaccinated when 2 weeks or more has passed since the staff completed a primary vaccination series for COVID-19.  That can be either the administration of a single-dose vaccine or the administration of all required doses of a multi-dose vaccine.  It does not include booster shots.

Facilities directly regulated by the COPs/CfCs will have to have policies and procedures to implement the requirement.  Among these requirements is a process for ensuring the implementation of additional precautions, intended to mitigate transmission and spread of COVD-19, for all staff (and contractors) who are not fully vaccinated.  There are also contingency planning requirements and documentation and tracking requirements.

The IFC provides facilities 30 days to make sure that staff have received at least the first dose of a primary series or a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine prior the staff providing any care, treatment, or other services for the facility and/or its patients.  Within 60 days, the facility must ensure that staff have completed the primary vaccination services (except for those who have been granted an exemption or exclusion).

CMS will enforce the regulations through the existing onsite compliance review process with state survey agencies. Accreditation organizations will also be required to update their survey processes.  If a facility is not in compliance, the existing enforcement remedies related to the COPs/CfCs, which can include termination from the Medicare program, will apply.

The rule preempts state law under Article VI § 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

The rule takes effect November 5, but stakeholders have 60 days to provide comments with comments due by January 4, 2022.

 

             

 

It’s Time for EMS to Apply for HHS Provider Relief Fund Tranche 4!

Recorded October 8, 2021 | Free to All | Speaker: Asbel Montes

The deadline for Provider Relief Fund (PRF) applications is 11:59 PM October 26, 2021. If your EMS agency has not yet applied for funds, the American Ambulance Association strongly encourages you to do so! We are happy to answer member questions, just email hello@ambulance.org. Remember, Amber cost data collection software (www.emsamber.com) access is included with your AAA membership and has a PRF module to help you with your application. If you are an AAA member and need help accessing Amber, email shilker@ambulance.org. HRSA is also hosting a technical assistance webinar for PRF applications on October 13, 2021.

OCR Issues Guidance on HIPAA, COVID-19 Vaccinations, and the Workplace

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to help the public understand when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule applies to disclosures and requests for information about whether a person has received a COVID-19 vaccine.

In the guidance, OCR reminds the public that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to employers or employment records. The HIPAA Privacy Rule only applies to HIPAA covered entities (health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers that conduct standard electronic transactions), and, in some cases, to their business associates.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule applies to most EMS providers but only as it relates to it’s patient’s Protect Health Information (PHI).

Today’s guidance addresses common workplace scenarios and answers questions about whether and how the HIPAA Privacy Rule applies. The Privacy Rule does not apply when an individual:

  • Is asked about their vaccination status by a school, employer, store, restaurant, entertainment venue, or another individual.
  • Asks another individual, their doctor, or a service provider whether they are vaccinated.
  • Asks a company, such as a home health agency, whether its workforce members are vaccinated.

Generally, the Privacy Rule does not regulate what information can be requested from employees as part of the terms and conditions of employment that an employer may impose on its workforce

The Privacy Rule does not prohibit a covered entity or business associate from requiring or requesting each workforce member to:

  • Provide documentation of their COVID-19 or flu vaccination to their current or prospective employer.
  • Sign a HIPAA authorization for a covered health care provider to disclose the workforce member’s COVID-19 or other vaccination record to their employer.
  • Wear a mask–while in the employer’s facility, on the employer’s property, or in the normal course of performing their duties at another location.
  • Disclose whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccine in response to queries from current or prospective patients.

OCR stated that they are issuing this guidance to help consumers, businesses, and health care entities understand when HIPAA applies to disclosures about COVID-19 vaccination status and to ensure that they have the information they need to make informed decisions about protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.

More details about the latest guidance on HIPAA, COVID-19 Vaccinations, and the Workplace may be found at https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/hipaa-covid-19-vaccination-workplace/index.html.  If you have questions regarding what information you may or may not share relative to COVID-19 vaccinations, please contact the AAA for assistance.

 

New Guidance on COVID-19 Workplace Safety for Federal Contractors

This week, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force released new guidance on COVID-19 workplace safety protocols for Federal contractors and subcontractors.  On September 9, President Biden signed Executive Order 14042, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, which directed executive departments and agencies to ensure that all federal contractors and subcontractors comply with all guidance published by the Task Force. These workplace safety protocols will apply to all covered contractor and subcontractor employees in covered contractor workplaces even if they are not working on Federal Government contracts.

Overview of Workplace Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors

Pursuant to the guidance issued this week, and in addition to any requirements or workplace safety protocols that are applicable because a contractor or subcontractor employee is present at a Federal workplace, Federal contractors and subcontractors with a covered contract will be required to conform to the following workplace safety protocols:

  1. COVID-19 vaccination of covered contractor employees, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to a medical or religious accommodation;
  2. Compliance by individuals, including covered contractor employees and visitors, with the Guidance related to masking and physical distancing while in covered contractor workplaces; and
  3. Designation by covered contractors of a person or persons to coordinate COVID-19 workplace safety efforts at covered contractor workplaces.

The guidance provides details regarding who is included under these new rules.  Under the latest guidance, a “Covered Contractor Employee” means any full-time or part-time employee of a covered contractor” working on” or “in connection with” a covered contract or working at a covered contractor workplace. This includes employees of covered contractors who are not themselves working on or in connection with a covered contract, except for those employees who only perform work outside the United States or its outlying areas.  This means that all ambulance service employees, who perform work related to or in connection with the contract, such as dispatchers, human resource and billing personnel, training staff, etc. are subject to the new requirements.  This includes employees working from remotely or from home, who are performing work in connection with the contract.

Under the guidance, a “Covered Contractor Workplaces” are locations controlled by a covered contractor at which any employee of a covered contractor working on or in connection with a covered contract is likely to be present during the period of performance for a covered contract.  This includes those workplaces such as ambulance stations, administrative offices, etc.

Vaccination of Covered Contractor Employees

Covered contractors must ensure that all their covered employees are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 unless the employee is legally entitled to an accommodation. Covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated no later than December 8, 2021.  The guidance detailed that vaccination is required of all employees, even if they have previously been infected with COVID-19.

Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination

Under this guidance, the contractor or subcontractor must review the covered employee’s documentation to prove vaccination status.  The guidance identifies the list of acceptable documents an employee can furnish to prove vaccination, including:

  1. Copy of Immunization Record from a healthcare provider or pharmacy
  2. Copy of the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card (CDC Form MLS-319813_r, published 9/3/2020)
  3. Copy of Medical Records documenting the vaccination
  4. Copy of Immunization Records from a public health or State Immunization Information System
  5. Copy of any other official documentation verifying vaccination with information of:
    1. Vaccine name
    2. Date of administration
    3. Name of healthcare professional or clinic site administering the vaccine

*Digital copies of these records are acceptable (jpg, scanned PDF, etc.)

The guidance specified that a signed attestation by the employee is not acceptable proof of vaccination.  Additionally, the guidance stated that recent COVID-19 antibody tests do not satisfy the requirements under these rules.

Masking and Physical Distancing While in Covered Contractor Workplaces

Covered contractors must ensure that all individuals, including covered contractor employees and visitors, comply with published CDC guidance for masking and physical distancing at a covered contractor workplace. The guidance provided more details on these masking and physical distancing requirements.  These include requiring unvaccinated individuals to mask indoors and in certain outdoor settings regardless of COVID-19 transmission levels.  Contractors are required to monitor the community transmission levels on the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker County View website on a weekly basis.

COVID-19 Coordinator Designation

Covered contractors must designate a person or persons to coordinate implementation of, and compliance with, these workplace safety protocols at covered contractor workplaces. Their responsibilities to coordinate COVID-19 workplace safety protocols may comprise some or all of their regular duties.  This individual can be the same person who is designated under other state or local COVID-19 safety requirements.

Finally

The guidance makes it clear that the rules applicable to all federal contractors and supersedes any state or local rules or regulations that are contrary to these provisions.  That means that any rules that prohibit mask or other COVID-19 related safety mandates, or otherwise contradict the rules under this guidance will not excuse a federal contractor’s obligations under these rules.

The guidance will be finalized by the Office of Management & Budget in the coming days.  In the meantime, if you have any questions or need assistance, contact the AAA at hello@ambulance.org.

HHS PRF Tranche 4 | Important Funding Opportunity for EMS Providers


Speaker: Scott Moore, Esq. | Share on Facebook
This funding opportunity will distribute $25.5 billion in additional Phase 4 General Distribution for EMS agencies and American Rescue Plan (ARP) payments for qualified rural providers who furnish services to Medicaid/CHIP and Medicare beneficiaries. It is critical for all #EMS providers to apply for this funding opportunity regardless of previous funding allocations. We have learned that many EMS providers did not apply for the Tranche 3 funding opportunity because they did not believe that they would be eligible to receive funds under the announced funding formula. Due to the limited number of applicants in Tranche 3, HRSA modified the formula and many who failed to apply would have received funds. We are recommending that all EMS agencies apply to receive the funding that they desperately need. The deadline for applying is 11:59 p.m. on October 26, 2021. There is no penalty for applying.