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Healthcare Roundup: State CON Law Changes, Pop-Up COVID-19 Testing Sites & More

January 21, 2022

States Retooling Certificate of Need Laws:

Thirty-five states currently have certificate of need, or CON, laws, requiring certain healthcare facilities to obtain approval from the state before expanding their service capacity. But with critics of such laws contending they actually stifle competition, protect incumbent providers and possibly discourage service expansion into rural or other underserved areas, many states have recently been modifying their CON oversight.

At least 23 states temporarily waived or expedited their CON approval process during the pandemic out of concern about hospital bed capacity, and now some have started making those changes permanent. For instance, Montana recently exempted all but long-term care facilities from its CON review process. Other states, including North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington, have made more targeted changes.

Many states, including Georgia, Maine, Oregon and Washington, have also provided exemptions or other flexibility for rural healthcare providers. And a number, including Delaware, North Carolina and Virginia, have required providers to adopt financial assistance policies as a condition of CON approval. (NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES)

Pop-Up COVID-19 Testing Sites Problem for City, State Officials:

As the highly contagious Omicron variant has rapidly spread across the country, mobile COVID-19 testing tents and vans have been popping up on urban streets. Some are legitimate operations that provide fast, reliable results. Others are not.

Users of testing sites in Chicago have reported encountering unmasked employees or being asked to provide a credit card number or their Social Security number before receiving a test. Employees at a testing tent in Philadelphia falsely claimed to be working with FEMA.

A big part of the problem appears to be that although city and state health departments regulate labs that process COVID-19 tests, they don’t usually regulate testing site operators. Public awareness may be an effective deterrent, however. In December 2020, Maryland’s attorney general issued a press release warning consumers that unauthorized testing operations could use personal information collected from them to steal their identities. The AG’s office hasn’t received any complaints about pop-up testing sites since then. (KAISER HEALTH NEWS)

Staffing Displaces COVID-19 as Top Concern for Hospitals:

For the past two years, COVID-19 has been the biggest worry for hospitals. But according to the CEOs and CFOs from 20 of the nation’s most prominent health systems who gathered at the recently concluded 40th Annual J.P. Morgan Health Care Conference, hospitals have a new top concern: staffing.

Hospitals are not only seeing major increases in turnover, from early retirements, job shifts and career exits, but also wage pressures, including from the substantially higher rates associated with traveling nurses. And those labor woes are expected to worsen. California and New York are both projecting healthcare worker shortfalls of half a million by 2026.

Presenters at the JPM conference offered up a few strategies for health systems to try to alleviate their staffing problems, including providing additional compensation and other incentives to their current staff; investing in advanced clinician training; pursuing recruitment outside the United States; developing staffing flexibility, such as by using float pools of nurses or cross-staffing between departments; and deploying telehealth services. (STAT)

AL to Spend $172M in ARPA Funds on Healthcare:

Alabama lawmakers convened in special session last week to determine how to spend $772 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the state has received. Under proposed legislation (HB 1 a/SB 1 a), about $172 million of that money would go toward healthcare, including $80 million for pandemic-related healthcare cost reimbursements to hospitals and nursing homes; $36.8 million for assisted living care, mental health care and rehabilitation services; $30 million for rural hospitals; $20 million for emergency responders; and $5 million for telemedicine. (AL.COM, STATE NET)

IL Allows Medication Donation:

A new law took effect in Illinois on Jan. 1 that will allow individuals and institutions such as long-term care facilities to donate unused medication to pharmacies for distribution to patients in need, particularly those who are uninsured or underinsured. About 40 other states already had such laws in place. (CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

More VC Investment Pouring into Digital Health:

Digital health companies around the world took in $30.7 billion in venture capital last year, a 68 percent increase from 2020. The sectors that benefited most from that funding were telehealth ($9.5 million, up 111 percent from 2020), data analytics ($3.2 billion, up 76 percent), mobile health apps ($2.6 billion, up 86 percent), wellness ($2.4 billion, up 209 percent), and wearable sensors ($2.2 billion, up 170 percent). (MODERN HEALTHCARE)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

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