In this edition, we focus on the end of the healthcare setting mask mandate, CareOregon’s work to help customers retain coverage through the redeterminations process, and controversial legislation that would mandate minimum nurse/patient staffing ratios.
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State of Reform
1. Mask mandate to end next month
The requirement for workers and visitors to wear masks in Oregon healthcare settings will end on April 3rd. The state announced an end to the mandate following a steady decrease in COVID-19 cases over the past several months. The state currently requires workers in hospitals, mobile clinics, ambulances, outpatient facilities, dental offices, urgent care centers, counseling offices, school-based health centers, and medicinal locations to wear masks.
While they will no longer be required, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) said people at higher risk for severe disease, or who live with someone at higher risk, should still consider wearing masks in healthcare settings to better protect themselves and those most vulnerable around them. Some healthcare settings may continue to require masks even after the requirement is lifted.
2. CareOregon helping customers retain coverage through redeterminations
CareOregon is working to help customers retain coverage or find alternative options as the public health emergency’s (PHE) continuous Medicaid coverage requirement will end on March 31st. Hundreds of thousands will be at risk of losing coverage as the OHA conducts eligibility redeterminations for Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) members.
Health plans are working to update customer information, contact them, and guide them to other coverage options if they are determined to be ineligible for Medicaid. CareOregon COO Amy Dowd discussed the process with State of Reform. “We’re making sure they know how to get assistance with assessing their options with a navigator, a certified agent of the state, or other options,” Dowd said.
3. Disagreement over proposed minimum nurse/patient staffing ratios
Healthcare professionals are in disagreement over HB 2697, which would establish minimum standards for staffing plans for direct care registered nurses, and impose penalties for the failure to adopt or comply with these plans. Hundreds of community members provided written testimony on the bill, and it was debated rigorously during a House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care meeting.
Proponents of the bill said unsafe staffing can threaten patient care. “The current staffing law only protects staff who fall under the Nurse Practice Act, yet numerous studies have shown the importance of team-based care and staffing,” SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi said. HB 2697 opponents said it would establish a one-size-fits-all approach that fundamentally changes the way staffing currently works. The bill is scheduled for a work session in the House on April 3rd.
4. Drugs contribute to record number of Portland homeless deaths
Drugs significantly contributed to a record number of homeless deaths in Multnomah County, according to a new report. At least 193 homeless people died there in 2021, a 53% increase from the county’s 126 homeless deaths in 2020. Drugs or alcohol either caused or contributed to nearly 60% of those deaths. The 2011 report, in its initial year, recorded 47 homeless deaths in the county.
Methamphetamine contributed to 93 homeless deaths, which represented 82% of all deaths involving substances. Fentanyl was a primary or contributing factor in 36 deaths, which was a dramatic increase from the four fentanyl-related deaths last year. Next year’s report could be bleaker, as the OHA recently released a dashboard that showed at least 207 homeless people died statewide in the first half of 2022.
5. Bill would improve treatment options for those suffering from sickle cell disease
Rep. Travis Nelson is sponsoring HB 2927, which would establish a statewide steering committee on sickle cell disease. The committee would establish a network of stakeholders, provide education services, and identify funding sources to care for the disease. Nelson said one out of every 365 African Americans are born with sickle cell disease.
“As a nurse and a Black man, I care deeply for those impacted by sickle cell disease,” Nelson said. Leslie Gregory, a physician assistant, said she has cared for many patients suffering from pain related to the disease who cannot acquire needed medications for it due to stigmas around the opioid overdose epidemic. The bill is scheduled for a work session in the House on March 22nd.