5 Things Utah: Q&A w/Melissa Freigang, Hospital transparency, COVID in nursing homes


Emily Boerger


It’s an odd time in COVID. Public opinion has turned gloomy, with Gallup reporting that more people are pessimistic about the future of COVID and getting the disease than are optimistic. That’s the first time since January that more folks are worried than hopeful.

Moreover, 1 in 3 vaccinated individuals are now “somewhat” or “very worried” about getting COVID. Thanks for hyping that 0.1% chance, media. Hope it was worth it.

Meanwhile 20% of unvaccinated individuals are “somewhat” or “very worried” about getting COVID. Maybe 80% of unvaccinated folks are a bit overconfident here. But, for those 20% that are worried, there is a vaccine. It will keep you from getting sick, and almost absolutely keep you out of the hospital. You’ll have less worry by getting it — trust me on this.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Q&A: Melissa Freigang, Prosperity Center of Excellence

Melissa Freigang is the founding director of the Prosperity Center of Excellence (COE) at Weber County – an integrated, state agency partnership focused on alleviating intergenerational poverty and homelessness. In this Q&A, Freigang discusses the center’s mission, current programs like the ICAN initiative, and future efforts to address homelessness.

Since the COE’s work began two years ago, Freigang says their work has evolved to include criminal justice, economic development systems, homeless response, and the social determinants of health. “We are gap-fillers and we’re capacity builders. Our job is to share best practices and to solve these problems for our community members. It’s to build the capacity of the system so that our service providers can plug in right away … Our entire job is to do this work differently than it’s ever been done before.”


2. Nursing home staff hit with COVID

Utah currently ranks 6th highest in the nation for COVID-19 cases among nursing home staff at about 1 case per 100 residents. According to the AARP Nursing Homes COVID-19 Dashboard, 30.2% of Utah nursing homes have newly confirmed cases of COVID among staff. On this measure, Utah ranks 5th in the country, behind just Florida, Missouri, Arkansas, and Nevada.

These relatively high COVID numbers are coupled with a workforce shortage where 22.1% of nursing homes report a shortage of nurses and aides. Despite these numbers, Utah is above average in terms of vaccinations among staff with 67.6% of health care staff fully vaccinated. 34.8% of nursing homes report having 75% or more of their staff vaccinated.


3. Report: hospitals noncompliant with price transparency rules

A recent nationwide study from PatientRightsAdvocate.org found 5 Utah hospitals – all hospitals surveyed in the state – to be noncompliant with ACA price transparency rules that went into effect January 1, 2021. The study examined a random sample of 500 US hospitals to evaluate whether they met the federal rule’s two main requirements: to have a machine-readable standard charges list for all services, and to have a charges list or price estimator tool for the 300 most common shoppable services.

For the 5 Utah hospitals evaluated, the report states all failed to have complete standard charges information. Four out of five were marked noncompliant for their price estimator tools. Details on the hospitals’ individual determinations are available here.


4. CMS revokes work requirements

In a letter sent last week, CMS officially revoked Utah’s Medicaid work and community engagement requirements due to risk of “coverage losses and harm to beneficiaries” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision comes after a February 2021 letter in which CMS warned the Division of Medicaid and Health Financing that the agency was beginning a process to determine whether or not to withdraw the approval.

If community engagement requirements were enacted in Utah, the Commonwealth Fund estimates there could be Medicaid coverages losses for 10,000 to 17,000 beneficiaries in the first year of full implementation. The letter lists impacts of the pandemic, such as reduced access to child care and transportation, economic challenges, and lingering health consequences from the virus, as reasons why the state will not be able to move forward with the engagement requirements.

5. COVID cases high in nearly all counties

The latest data from the Utah Department of Health rates every county in the state – other than Rich, Daggett, and Piute Counties – as having either “very high” or “high” COVID case rates. Daily hospital survey data indicates both ICU and non-ICU COVID hospitalizations are on the rise with numbers not seen since February of this year.

In an interview last week, Gov. Spencer Cox says he will continue to encourage vaccinations but noted that the government does not have the ability to require proof of vaccination. Since February 2021, unvaccinated Utahns have had a 5.5 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID, a 6 times greater risk of hospitalization, and an 8.6 greater risk of dying from COVID.