Prepare now for COVID-19 to be around awhile

by A.J. Plunkett (aplunkett@decisionhealth.com)

Health experts are warning providers that COVID-19 might be a long-term problem. Whether it’s contained in the U.S. to only a few dozen cases or becomes the pandemic others warn about, hospitals and other providers need to be preparing for emerging contagious diseases. For one thing, it’s already required by CMS Conditions of Participation (CoP) and Conditions of Coverage (CoC) on emergency preparedness.

And it’s smart business. Remind your C-suite that a facility’s duty to provide healthcare “increases when it is on notice of potential harm to patients. The Centers for Disease Control has announced that all hospitals should be preparing to treat coronavirus patients and, thereby, increase health care facilities’ liability for lack of preparedness,” noted Delphine O’Rourke, a health law partner with Duane Morris LLP, in a recent press release.

“Predictions are that the coronavirus will last over a year and therefore emergency provisions in supply contracts should be negotiated as soon as possible including coverage of long-term surge requirements, business continuity, flow through requirements, non-exclusivity, force majeure and indemnification,” according to O’Rourke.

In a blog post on the website of King & Spalding law firm in Austin, healthcare lawyer Catherine Greaves noted that staffing challenges as well as employee education should be among the top concerns during preparations for COVID-19.

“It is important that all hospital personnel, particularly emergency room staff, fully know and understand the potential symptoms of the coronavirus,” wrote Greaves. And facilities need to plan for staffing challenges because, “during a pandemic, healthcare personnel and other hospital staff may be discouraged from reporting for duty, due to the risk and fear of becoming ill, and/or transmitting the virus to their family members.”

In addition, “During an emergency, healthcare personnel will be placed in an ‘all-hands on deck’ scenario, in which they may be treating populations which they do not normally treat,” she noted, adding that hospital personnel will need to be able to perform their duties effectively in all levels and types of personal protective equipment.

While the goal is to contain COVID-19, federal scientists from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that might not happen. “If the disease begins to spread in U.S. communities, containment may no longer be a realistic goal and response efforts likely will need to transition to various mitigation strategies, which could include isolating ill people at home, closing schools and encouraging telework.”

For more tips from these and other experts on long-term mitigation strategies for hospitals and other providers, see future issues of Inside Accreditation and Quality, Healthcare Safety Leader, and Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare.