Well before the present crisis shut down business operations and activities deemed incidental, New York law created a process for governments to confer home health care nurses, aides and therapists with “essential-personnel” status in public emergencies.
The law, signed in 2017, was designed expressly for a crisis like our present one; and it arose fresh from the memory of home care’s needs, struggles and heroism during Hurricane Sandy.
Those needs – and countless others – have come roaring back in the COVID-19 pandemic, with New York at the epicenter.
Again, home care rightly holds essential-business responsibilities in this public health fight, caring for our nation’s most vulnerable. But these providers and their frontline staff also still need essential-business supports. Many of these supports require action from Congress.
HCA surveys show that the vast majority of home care agencies in New York State are seeing at least a 10 percent decrease in their workforce capacity due to COVID-19 as well as near-term revenue losses of up to 30 percent or higher. We’ve appealed to Congress for funds to both stabilize home care providers and permit wage enhancements.
New York State, in its administration of Medicaid, is allowing powerful tools like telehealth and other remote communications in place of home care visits, wherever feasible, so that home care providers get their own surge capacity relief. Home telehealth can maximize a clinician’s reach and help providers commit more resources to patients with the greatest needs.
Our state’s Medicaid program is also allowing providers to bill for these services. Not so for Medicare, where we need Congress to similarly respond on behalf of millions of beneficiaries nationally.
Home care in New York has long led the country in use of telehealth to expand the reach of nursing and therapeutic care and clinical monitoring of patients at home. Our state elected leaders have employed a broadly flexible and visionary use of telehealth to promote patient care as well as worker and patient safety in the COVID-19 emergency. Washington should follow suit for Medicare.