Unvaccinated medical workers turn to religious exemptions

While reasons given for seeking exemptions vary, the vaccines’ remote link to fetuses aborted decades ago is often cited — lab-grown cell lines descended from those fetuses were used in testing and manufacturing processes. The vaccines do not contain fetal cells, however, and workers generally are seeking the exemptions without the backing of major denominations and prominent religious leaders.

But as the healthcare mandate takes effect, hospital leaders acknowledge that they see the exemptions as a way to retain staff at a time when resources are already stretched thin.

“Our position has been we would we want we want everyone vaccinated,” said Brock Slabach, chief operations officer for the National Rural Health Association. “But we also think that access to care is incredibly important.”

Similar stories abound across the country.

At the 25-bed Community Hospital in McCook, Nebraska, in the southwestern part of the state, about 20% of the 320 employees have not been vaccinated. About 35 applied for exemptions, and others are still deciding what to do. The hospital has rejected some requests that relied on specious religious reasoning.

“If it’s a complete, like, essay on the science behind why this shouldn’t be allowed, or a complete essay on

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Kaiser Permanente broke its own profit record in 2021

Kaiser Permanente had its most profitable year yet in 2021, drawing $8.1 billion in net income.

Oakland, California-based Kaiser once again benefited from strong investment returns last year, beefing up its nonoperating income even as its operating income grew slimmer. The integrated health system’s net income grew 27.2% year-over-year, from an already strong $6.4 billion in 2020.

Tom Meier, Kaiser’s corporate treasurer, cautioned that investment returns are “extremely volatile,” and Kaiser does not rely on its net income to support operations. Instead, the money supports its capital programs and infrastructure investments. Last year, that included 11 new medical offices. Kaiser now has 734 medical offices, 39 owned and operated hospitals and 58 retail and worksite clinics.

Not-for-profit Kaiser’s total capital spending dropped in 2021 to $3.5 billion, from $4 billion in 2020.

Most health systems haven’t yet released their 2021 financial results, but Kaiser has grown to become one of the country’s most profitable health systems. In 2020, its $6.4 billion was the country’s highest, even beating out investor-owned HCA Healthcare, which posted $3.8 billion in net income. Modern Healthcare financial data show Mayo Clinic was the third most profitable system in 2020, drawing $2.5 billion in net income that

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CMS claws back Medicare payments from hospitals that own nursing schools

The error

In the late 1990s, when Congress created what is know called Medicare Advantage, it also set up a funding stream to help cover training at hospital-owned nursing schools. While Congress directed CMS to cap the funding at $60 million per year, the agency failed to do so. Funding exceeded the cap by 2008, and by the time the error was recognized a decade later, CMS had already overpaid hospital-owned nursing schools by $310 million and underpaid physician training programs by that amount. The agency discovered the problem when Graduate Medical Education programs, which shares the pool of funding with the nursing schools, realized they were underpaid,

The looming repayment date has left many nursing schools scrambling to fill unanticipated holes in their budgets.

“There aren’t very many organizations for which $10 million isn’t a lot of money,” said Nate Brandstater, president of Kettering College, which graduated 45 nurses in winter of 2021.

That is half of the college’s annual revenue. Kettering Health, a not-for-profit health system in Ohio that owns the college, had $49 million in operating income in fiscal year 2021 with a 2.9% operating margin, might be able to help with the costs, but there are

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COVID booster effectiveness wanes but remains strong, study shows

An early look at the performance of COVID-19 booster shots during the recent omicron wave in the U.S. hinted at a decline in effectiveness, though the shots still offered strong protection against severe illness.

The report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, is considered an early and limited look at the durability of booster protection during the omicron surge that exploded in December and January but has been fading in recent weeks.

“COVID-19 vaccine boosters remain safe and continue to be highly effective against severe disease over time,” said Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokesperson.

The researchers looked at patient visits to hospitals and urgent care centers in 10 states. They estimated how well Pfizer or Moderna booster shots prevented COVID-related visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers, and how well the vaccines prevented hospitalizations.

About 10% of people in the study were boosted. Vaccine effectiveness was higher in people who had received boosters than in people who had received only the original series of shots.

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But researchers also found that during the time that the omicron variant has been predominant, vaccine effectiveness against outpatient visits was

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OU Health names inaugural CEO

Dr. Richard Lofgren was named CEO of OU Health, the integrated academic health system announced Friday.

Lofgren, the longtime chief executive at UC Health in Cincinnati, will lead the newly formed OU Health, which was created last year after OU Medicine hospitals and its affiliated physicians merged. Prior to UC Health, Lofgren was an executive at University HealthSystem Consortium, which has since been acquired by the group purchasing organization Vizient.

“Because of Dr. Lofgren’s leadership ability and his deep commitment to academic healthcare, we are well positioned to optimize all three components of our mission—patient care, research and education—to improve the health of all Oklahomans,” Joseph Harroz, Jr., OU president and OU Health board member, said in a news release.

Oklahoma University Medicine bought out HCA Healthcare’s management agreement and ownership stake of its hospital facilities for $750 million in 2018.

Oklahoma City-based OU Health recorded a $27 million operating loss on $1.4 billion of revenue in 2021, down from a $40.2 million operating income on $1.3 billion of revenue in 2020. The health system received $109.9 million of COVID-19 relief grants as of June of last year.

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SOC Telemed to go private via acquisition by investment firm

Patient Square Capital will acquire SOC Telemed, the acute care telehealth company announced Thursday.

SOC Telemed—formerly known as Specialists On Call—went public in 2020 by mergning with a special purpose acquisition company in 2020.

SOC Telemed will again be privately held once Patient Square Capital completes its purchase. The vendor offers technology and services for such specialty care as neurology, critical care and pulmonology to hospitals, physician networks and other healthcare organizations. SOC Telemed expects the deal to close in the second quarter.

Shareholders will receive $3 in cash per share of common stock, representing a premium of 366.1% over SOC Telemed’s closing share price on Wednesday and 93.1% over the company’s 60-day volume-weighted average price through Wednesday, according to a news release. Shares closed at $2.85 Thursday, up from $0.64 on Wednesday.

“We believe that as a private company, with the expertise and support of the team at Patient Square Capital, SOC Telemed will be best positioned to meet the growing needs of patients, physicians and our hospital partners,” Dr. Chris Gallagher, the company’s CEO said in a news release.

Gallagher will retain his position, which he assumed in September after SOC Telemed purchased multi-specialty acute-care telehealth company Access

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Bottom-tier hospitals got better at infection control, but still hit with 1% Medicare pay cuts

The CMS Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program is based on two sets of infection measurements: Medicare claims data information from medical charts that hospital provide to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The events that affect scores include central line-associated infections, surgical site infections, pressure ulcers, in-hospital falls, respiratory failure and sepsis after surgery. CMS rates hospitals relative to the national average and to their own past performance.

By design, the bottom quartile are subject to Medicare payment penalties even though the benchmark has changed over time as hospitals overall improve their infection rates. For example, the bar was slightly higher for 2022 than it was for 2018, meaning a hospital that earned the same score each year would have been penalized in 2022 but not in 2018.

In other words, hospitals prevented infections more effectively but, for some, it wasn’t enough as compared to their peers to avoid penalties.

“It’s not surprising that the bottom would be better, because the field as a whole pre-pandemic was focused on best practices around things like central-line infections and ways to embed processes into electronic health records,” Gandhi said. The program itself deserves credit for pressuring hospitals to act, she said.

Change

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Minority women most affected if abortion is banned, limited

If you are Black or Hispanic in a conservative state that already limits access to abortions, you are far more likely than a white woman to have one.

And if the U.S. Supreme Court allows states to further restrict or even ban abortions, minority women will bear the brunt of it, according to statistics analyzed by The Associated Press.

The numbers are unambiguous. In Mississippi, people of color comprise 44% of the population but 80% of women receiving abortions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks health statistics.

In Texas, they’re 59% of the population and 74% of those receiving abortions. The numbers in Alabama are 35% and 70%. In Louisiana, minorities represent 42% of the population, according to the state Health Department, and about 72% of those receiving abortions.

“Abortion restrictions are racist,” said Cathy Torres, a 25-year-old organizing manager with Frontera Fund, a Texas organization that helps women pay for abortions. “They directly impact people of color, Black, brown, Indigenous people … people who are trying to make ends meet.”

Why the great disparities? Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Alabama-based Yellowhammer Fund, which provides financial support for women seeking abortion, said women of color in

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Boosting volume key to higher doctor pay despite value-based care push, study shows

Doctors employed by health system-owned practices are paid mostly for the amount of services they provide, even as payers strive toward value-based care, the RAND Corp. reports in a new study.

The findings, published on JAMA Health Forum Friday, show that volume counted towards compensation for 83.9% of primary care physician organizations and 93.3% of specialty organizations. Performance-based initiatives averaged less than 10% of compensation for the practices surveyed.

Alternative payment models have been picking up steam since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010. Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services set a goal to move all Medicare enrollees and most Medicaid beneficiaries into value-based care arrangements by 2030.

But physician compensation models aren’t keeping up. Health systems are still encouraging physicians to deliver more services in order to maximize revenue, the RAND Corp. survey found.

RAND Corp. researchers spoke to providers at 31 physician organizations affiliated with 22 health systems in four states between November 2017 and July 2019. Volume was the most common revenue strategy for those providers, with 26 primary care compensation models and 28 specialist models paying doctors based on the number of services rendered.

Volume comprised more than 68% of primary

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ThedaCare scraps lawsuit to prevent employees from leaving for Ascension

ThedaCare, which operates seven hospitals, contended in its lawsuit that seven members of its 11-member interventional radiology and cardiovascular team departing at the same time would endanger patients. The crew handles serious cases such trauma and stroke patients. Ascension rejected that argument and noted that the employees would provide the same care at a nearby hospital. Ascension also pointed out that ThedaCare declined to make the workers a counteroffer to get them to remain.

ThedaCare continues to stand by its assertions that the sole aim of the legal action was protecting patients. “We have worked diligently to ensure safe, quality, continued access to the high-level services our communities rely on in the most serious, life-threatening situations,” Andrabi said.

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