Nurses, Nursing Assistants And Back Injuries: ‘Twas Ever Thus

October 3rd, 2018 by Tom Lynch

“Occasionally the complaint is made that a nurse has injured her back … in moving a patient.”
Nursing: Its Principles And Practices; Robb, Isabel Adams, Mrs.; W.B.Saunders, Philadelphia, 1898.

Lynch Ryan’s very first client was a Massachusetts Community Hospital where the Experience Modification Factor was 2.77, primarily due to nursing and nursing assistant back injuries. The year was 1984, eighty-six years after Mrs. Robb’s observation, quoted above, and the Hospital had two problems: What to do about the employees who were suffering the back injuries and how to prevent them from happening in the future. Pulling a good-sized rabbit out of a small-sized hat, we were spectacularly successful at solving the first problem and pathetic failures when it came to the second. Oh, we knew what should be done. We had grand plans, but execution was beyond all our best efforts. And the problem continues to this day with no end in sight.

When we studied the problem of back injury prevention in the nursing industry back in 1984, these are the things that got in the way of a successful result then and where they stand today:

  • The vast preponderance of  back injuries happened while nurses and nursing assistants were trying to lift or move patients. That is still the primary problem;
  • In nearly all back injury cases, patient lifting or moving was being performed manually. It still is;
  • Although mechanical lifts were available for purchase, they were expensive and took time to set up and use, time that was often in short supply. Today, a Hoyer Manual Hydraulic Lift costs anywhere from $900 to $1,400; slings are about $370. Hospitals should have a couple units per floor. Employees need to be trained in how to use the equipment. A few hospitals, very few, have specially designated and trained teams. Although not a really big ticket item, the costs do add up, and the administrative logistics can be daunting;
  • There was no limit on how much a nurse or assistant would be required to lift, and more and more obese patients were turning up in the hospital. That issue is much worse now;
  • Many nurses and nursing assistants were themselves overweight or obese and, consequently, even more unable to lift overweight or obese patients. Today, in addition to the weight issue, which still remains (a 2012 University of Maryland study found 55% of nurses to be obese), the average age of nurses is higher than it was in the 1980s, and, because of budget constraints, there are fewer of them per patient.

While back injuries are the greatest source of loss with respect to nurses, the situation is even more problematic for nursing assistants, as this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows.

As you can see, nursing assistants suffer more back injuries than any other occupation. And as America continues to age – baby boomers turn 65 at the rate of one every nine seconds – the problem is only going to get worse.

This horrendoma that nobody seems to want to address is so severe that injuries in the health care sector dwarf any other industry, as another BLS chart shows for 2016, the most recent year for which there is data.

As we careen, helter skelter, down the Make America Great Again pothole-pockmarked highway, you’d think some genius would finally figure out how to fix the problem Mrs. Robb identified back in 1898. Then again, maybe not.

The waning days of summer Health Wonk Review

August 23rd, 2018 by Julie Ferguson

 

Through vacations, heat waves, and days on the beach, our health policy wonks are still on the job. As we eke out the remaining days of summer and slouch toward the interim election, they continue their relentless focus on opining about the issues of the day. Check our August edition entries.

  • First up, Joe Paduda unpacks the generic term to uncover the varied approaches to universal coverage currently operating at far lower cost and far better outcomes than our “multi-payer” “system” in his post What exactly is single payer at Managed Care Matters.
  • Louise Norris tells us that the Trump administration has finalized rules that will make it easier for many Americans to buy short-term health insurance plans that may be less expensive – but aren’t as comprehensive as ACA-compliant plans. She explains the rules and how they’ll affect consumers in her post at healthInsurance.org Blog: ‘So long’ to limits on short-term plans.
  • At InsureBlog, Patrick Paule puts paid to the notion that Medicare4All is any great deal or panacea. he makes his case in his post On BernieCare.
  • What’s worse than needing help with gait, mobility and balance? Being told you need a walker. No wonder, when the typical walker basically screams “frail elderly,” and is difficult to use as well. At Health Business Blog, David Williams talks with neurologist Patricia Kavanagh about how she teamed up with a design and production team to a modern device that is more functional and stylish in an effort to get her patients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders to use a walker.
  • Vincent Grippi pf the CareCentrix’s Homefront Blog submits this month’s episode of #CareTalk, in which David Williams (Health Business Group) and John Driscoll (CareCentrix) discuss Trump’s fight with Pfizer over drug pricing, and more.

 

Next issue: September 20 – Andrew Sprung – xpostfactoid

 

Summertime reading: Fresh Health Wonk Review & news on our radar

July 12th, 2018 by Julie Ferguson

Catch up with he latest news and thinking on health care policy issues – Peggy Salvatore has a fresh Health Wonk Review July 2018: Summer’s Coming Around Again edition posted at Health System Ed blog. Topics range from opioids and Purdue Pharma to high deductible plans and the cost of end-of-life care – grab a coffee and check it out!

A few other recent news items on our radar:

NCCI has issued a new a new Insights report on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Workers Compensation. Several states are currently exploring the issue of PTSD injury compensation – it comes up frequently for police, firefighters and other first responders.
Speaking of trauma, if PTSD is on your radar, the New York Times reviews various books on how people recover from trauma, including one by Elizabeth Smart. See Adversity Needn’t Thwart or Define You. Here’s How to Cope.

Work comp drug costs have dropped by over a billion dollars over the last eight years, largely driven by sharply lower opioid utilization. Learn more about this in the 15th annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Comp via Joe Paduda, CompPharma.

A new Lockton study says that nearly 70% of denied workers’ comp claims are converted and those claims can cost up to 50% more.

Top causes of high-dollar workers’ comp claims. Safety National recently completed a review of its largest workers’ comp claims and uncovered certain trends employers should be aware of.

WCRI Study Compares Hospital Outpatient Payments Across 35 States

Florida’ Supreme Court in Workers’ Compensation – David Langham

12 fast-rising technologies to get ready for

Trump’s trade war has started. Who’s been helped and who’s been hurt?

The U.S. labor shortage is reaching a critical point

Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Battle For Workplace Safety: Short Stuff – Jordan Barab

Cyber-Risk Costs Resist Overall Trend – Businesses’ total cost of risk declined in 2017, but cyber insurance rose 33%.

Cancer prevalence among flight attendants compared to the general population

Who Will Be Sued When A Robot Causes Harm?

Bezos, Buffett, Dimon Name Dr. Atul Gawande CEO of New Healthcare Company

One Man and a Hand Truck

Fentanyls and the Safety of First Responders: Science and Recommendations

Quo Vadis, Kentucky?

July 10th, 2018 by Tom Lynch

June 29, 2018. Thirteen days ago. I’m sitting in the Grand Ballroom of the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC, soaking in the presentations at the Annual Conference and CEO Summit of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP). ACAP has grown to be quite the force for Medicare Advantage and Medicaid health plans around the country. So, the conference is an important event for Medicare and Medicaid professionals.

I’m looking forward to the 3:30 p.m. session, Plans Involvement in the New World of Work Requirements, because Mark Carter and Carl Felix, CEO and COO, respectively, of Kentucky’s Passport Health Plan, are going to describe their efforts to implement the Bluegrass State’s Medicaid work requirements.

In early January, 2018, Kentucky became the first state to win CMS approval to institute work requirements for its Medicaid beneficiaries. As I sit in the Hilton’s ballroom, its new  Medicaid work requirement program, Kentucky HEALTH, is slated to go live in two days (state government is only outdone by the US Army in its genius-like ability to create acronyms; this one stands for Helping to Engage and Achieve Long Term Health; catchy, eh?). There’s a pesky lawsuit lurking in the wings aimed at getting the Court to declare the program unconstitutional, but on June 29 Kentucky bureaucrats are ready to drop the hammer.

So, I am really interested in learning about the looming work requirement program, because three other states have won approval and are putting their programs together, and more are waiting in the wings.

Unfortunately, at the last minute, Mark and Carl (remember them?) have to cancel, because in the mad dash to the finish line for Kentucky HEALTH’s launch, they actually can’t leave the office. But, not to worry. Kentucky HEALTH’s Chief Marketing Officer is here to fill us in.

As she takes us through Kentucky HEALTH’s creation, I have to say that I, and the three or four hundred other people in the room are absolutely astonished at the time, money, manpower and all-around effort involved in giving birth to this behemoth. In terms of planning and implementation preparation, Kentucky HEALTH may perhaps only be exceeded by Operation Overlord (look it up). Some highlights:

  • For the first time EVER, Kentucky’s Medicaid beneficiaries will have to pay premiums. The premiums aren’t a lot (to you and me), ranging from $1 to $15 per month. Pregnant women and children are exempt.
  • Individuals with income above the poverty level ($12,060) who do not pay their premiums in 60 days will be kicked out of coverage for six months. Enrollees can return to the program earlier if they pay two months of missed premiums and make one new premium payment. They also must complete a financial or health literacy course.
  • Individuals must either work, volunteer, be enrolled in schooling or do some kind of “qualified community engagement” for at least 80 hours per month.
  • Beneficiaries must report their work activity each month; failure to do so will cause Medicaid disenrollment for six months.
  • Healthcare providers will have to certify to the Commonwealth the health status of those individuals they deem physically unable to work.

Regarding that last bullet – Kentucky HEALTH created a seven page form providers must complete. Knowing how busy healthcare providers are, I ask, “What’s been the feedback from your providers about this seven page form, and, by the way, are you paying them to do it?” Answer: “We haven’t communicated with the providers about this. We consider it all part of an office visit.”

For a moment, put aside why Kentucky is going to all this trouble. The bottom line question is: What does it get for going to all this trouble? In its need to get freeloaders off Medicaid rolls, just how many people would Kentucky’s work requirements actually put to work?

The nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation provides some answers. Let’s check the numbers. Nationally:

  • About 10% of Medicaid recipients are elderly, age 65 and older, and many of them are in nursing homes.
  • About 48% are children, age 18 and younger.
  • That leaves about 42% who are of working age and potentially subject to the requirements.
  • Of that 42% who could be subject to the rules, 42% of them are already working full-time, and 18% are working part-time.
  • Another 14% are not working due to illness or disability.
  • Six percent are in school.
  • Twelve percent are caregivers for family members.
  • All of the above would be exempt from Kentucky’s rules.

That leaves about 1% of all Medicaid beneficiaries who would qualify for a work requirement program like Kentucky’s. That’s about 740,000 people nationally and around 12,000 in Kentucky (Since 2014, when Kentucky accepted Medicaid expansion, its Medicaid population has about doubled, rising from around 650,000 to 1.2 million) .

Kentucky HEALTH’s CMO wouldn’t (or couldn’t) say how much the state has spent on putting the program together or how many people have been devoted to it. But its best case scenario is that out of 1.2 million current beneficiaries about 95,000 may be off the rolls in five years, because either they no longer qualify for Medicaid because they either make too much money due to full-time work or they fail to comply with work requirements.

The day after the Kentucky HEALTH presentation at the ACAP conference District court Judge James Boasberg ruled Kentucky’s plan unlawful, because the federal government is obligated under federal law to consider whether a Medicaid proposal advances the program’s objectives, the judge wrote, and the Trump administration failed to meet that standard before approving Kentucky’s plan.

One final thought. When he announced the Trump administration’s approval of Kentucky’s work requirement plan, Governor Matt Bevin said, “I was raised by a father who said, ‘Don’t take something that is not earned.’” So, here’s the question: Unlike the entirety of the rest of the developed world, in America is basic health care something that has to be “earned?”

 

 

Your monthly dose of health wonkery

June 14th, 2018 by Julie Ferguson

Despite vacations, graduations, weddings and all the usual seasonal distractions, the Health Wonks are on the job. The June compendium of health policy news is freshly posted by long-time wonk Hank Stern at InsureBlog — and speaking of weddings, he’s posted A Midsummer Night’s Health Wonk Review. There are many great entries from the usual suspects so grab a coffee and check it out.

Bulletin: Dog Catches Bus! Now What?

June 12th, 2018 by Tom Lynch

We’re goin’ right straight back to 2010
To start the health care war all over again!

It took time, but the GOP has finally learned a thing or two about fighting the Affordable Care Act, or, as they insist on calling it: Obamacare. You will recall that in 2017, after achieving control of all three branches of government, the party of Abraham Lincoln launched, in another Ground Hog Day moment, its biggest ever attack on the ACA, only to see its troops repulsed and annihilated once again by the turned down thumb of a war hero.

And then, after so many defeats there was a “light dawning over Marblehead” moment that would have made Prince Talleyrand proud.  In what the army calls a “triple flank,” republicans:

  1. In their humongously big 2017 tax cut law, zeroed out the penalty for not having health insurance;
  2. In February, 2018, got 20 states to sue the federal government contending that repeal of the penalty obviates the individual mandate making the entirety of the ACA unconstitutional.
  3. In May, 2018, somehow convinced the Justice Department not to defend the government in the suit.

Wow! A trifecta!

If the 20 states prevail, collateral damage abounds. First and foremost, the ACA’s provision that insurers not discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. There are about 133 million Americans, under the age of 65, who fall into that health care Punji Pit. Prior to the ACA these family members, friends or neighbors of ours could be either denied coverage relating to their conditions, or charged exorbitant premiums. Beginning in 2014, the ACA forbade that. If the states win their suit, that meaty provision of the law, which a Kaiser tracking poll shows 70% of the population supports, gets torn up into little pieces and fed to the crows.

You might ask, “What do insurance companies think about all this?” Well, they do not like it one bit. America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade association for health insurance companies, supports the pre-existing condition protections under the ACA. “Removing those provisions will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market, create a patchwork of requirements in the states, cause rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients, and make it challenging to introduce products and rates for 2019,” AHIP said in a statement.

So, here’s the question: If the 20 states actually win their suit, what happens then? Among many groups, the 1.25 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes who need to inject costly insulin every day to stay alive are waiting for an answer.

Health Wonk Review – Instagram Style

May 17th, 2018 by Tom Lynch

A picture’s worth a thousand words, and today Jason Shafrin proves it at Healthcare Economist. Jason has a photo, a chart, a graph and even a cartoon (for you Sponge Bob lovers) to illustrate what Health Wonk Review authors are posting.

We’re heading toward summer, although you’d never know it from the weather we’ve been gifted here in Massachusetts. Regardless, grab a mug of whatever you like, sit back, put your feet up and take a stroll through a Wonk garden filled with some excellent health care policy thinking.

It’s The Zip Code, Stupid! Update

May 10th, 2018 by Tom Lynch

At the end of February 2018, we wrote about a May 2017 study in JAMA Internal Medicine that concluded that where one lives is a bigger factor in health care outcomes than actual health care. This from our February post:

Geography is the biggest X-Factor in today’s American Hellzapoppin version of health care. The study analyzed every US county using data from deidentified death records from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), and population counts from the US Census Bureau, NCHS, and the Human Mortality Databas and found striking differences in life expectancy. The gap between counties from lowest to highest life expectancy at birth was 20.1 years.

And, surpirse, surprise, it turns out if you live in a wealthy county with excellent access to high level health care, like Summit County, Colorado (life expectancy: 86.83), you’re likely to live about 15 years longer than if you live, say, in Humphries County, Mississippi, where life expectancy at birth is 71.9 years.  So, yes, Zip Code matters.

The concept of  zip code influence seems to be gaining traction. Today, from AIS Health Daily, we learn  a number of Blues Plans are planning on targeting the “where you live” problem with innovative strategies. Here is the AIS Daily release:

Blues Plans Work to Combat “ZIP Code Effect”
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) recently launched the Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute, a subsidiary of BCBSA created to address social and environmental issues, as evidence mounts that health outcomes may be affected as much or more by social determinants of health as they are by actual medical care.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute says it will address what it calls the “ZIP code effect,” which encompasses transportation, pharmacy, nutrition and fitness deserts in specific neighborhoods. It is partnering with Lyft, Inc., CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance to address transportation and pharmacy deserts. The institute says it plans to deal with fitness and nutrition deserts in 2019.
Meanwhile, Highmark Inc. will launch a transportation initiative this summer to provide rides for members with chronic health conditions who live in a transportation desert. The service will begin in Pittsburgh as a pilot.
On April 17, Highmark’s Allegheny Health Network opened its Health Food Center, which acts as a “food pharmacy” where patients who lack access to food can receive nutritious food items, education on disease-specific diets and additional services for other social challenges they may face.
Other Blues plans also are addressing social determinants of health. For instance, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina intends to invest part of its savings from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 into community health programs.
At Independence Blue Cross, the Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s Blue Safety Net Program offers “mobilized services” to medically underserved communities. The IBC Foundation sponsors the Philadelphia Eagles Youth Partnership’s Eagles Eye Mobile to conduct free vision screenings and eye exams and provide prescription glasses to under-insured and uninsured children.
We salute the Blues for recognizing the problem and trying to do something productive about it.
Final thought: If you do not subscribe to AIS Health Daily, you should.

On Empathy And Thoughtful Leadership

May 10th, 2018 by Tom Lynch

In his May 1 column for Risk & Insurance, Roberto Ceniceros, evoking the memory of Abraham Lincoln, describes and recommends a leadership style radically different from that of the tweet-driven current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Like Mr. Trump, Lincoln had quite a temper. However, over the course of his life he came to recognize it as a weakness. In many cases, when someone caused his blood to boil, which happened frequently during the Civil War, rather than immediately lashing out, he would often withdraw and write a letter to the offending party detailing in stark terms his great disappointment. He would then put the letter in a desk drawer and more often than not never send it. This mental health exercise would calm him and allow him to deal with the issue in a more thoughtful manner.

in his column, Mr. Ceniceros suggests Lincoln’s method defines a highly self-aware and empathic person. He writes that this behavioral characteristic was shared by four other historical figures described in “Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times,” written by Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn.

As described by Mr. Ceniceros, Keohn’s book:

…includes the story of Ernest Shackleton, hailed in previous business-management books for leading his shipwrecked and isolated crew off Antarctic ice flows. The other biographies feature abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned by the Gestapo and murdered for opposing the Third Reich; and scientist and author Rachel Carson, who raced against cancer to finish her manuscript on the dangers of mass pesticide use.

All five of these courageous people overcame nearly impossible challenges, but Shackleton, who simply refused to let anyone under his commend die on their perilous journey, and Lincoln, who simply refused to let the Union die on his watch, embody an empathy of heroic proportion.

Another person who should be included in this group is Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States. Grant was a great leader, but a total disaster as an administrator, primarily because of his trustful nature. His presidency is historically noted for profound corruption and scandals. In private life he failed miserably, both before the war and after it. In 1884, after his final business venture left him penniless, he contracted terminal cancer. His friend, Mark Twain, suggested Grant write his autobiography, which Twain would publish, giving Grant extremely favorable royalties (30%). Faced with impending death, Grant simply refused to die and leave his family in abject poverty. He raced to complete the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, an autobiography Twain described this way:

I had been comparing the memoirs with Caesar‘s Commentaries. …I was able to say in all sincerity, that the same high merits distinguished both books—clarity of statement, directness, simplicity, unpretentiousness, manifest truthfulness, fairness and justice toward friend and foe alike, soldierly candor and frankness, and soldierly avoidance of flowery speech. I placed the two books side by side upon the same high level, and I still think that they belonged there.

Grant died five days after finishing the book. His heirs received royalties of about $450,000, which, in today’s currency, comes to about $12 million.

 

 

Lincoln, with his letters, Shackleton, his loyalty, and Grant, with an indomitable will to provide for his family, personify dedication to others on an heroic scale. Roberto Ceniceros’s column is a poignant reminder that character matters, that a forceful personality can be used for good or ill, that humility is the foundation of empathy.

Donald Trump should start writing letters.

Workers Memorial Day: April 28

April 27th, 2018 by Julie Ferguson

worker memorial day poster

Every year, April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, a global day of remembrance for those who have suffered and died on the job, as well as a day to renew a focus and commitment to safer jobs and workplaces. It’s also an annual reminder that most workplace injuries are preventable in nature. The AFL-CIO first initiated Worker Memorial Day in 1970, the same year that Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

For more history on the event, see Jordan Barab’s post at Confined Space: Approaching Workers Memorial Day. He links to both the annual Death on the Job report and the National COSH annual Dirty Dozen 2018 report on “Employers Who Put Workers and Communities at Risk.” There are some familiar names on the list that some may find surprising.

To participate in Saturday’s commemoration or to learn more:

AFL-CIO: Find an event near you

OSHA: find an event near you

National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) – Events

28april.org – Hazards magazine and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)