COVID Resurgence & Response

Hospitals Re-Visiting Disaster Planning as COVID-19 Cases Rise

Citing a perfect storm of three factors – the resurgence of COVID-19, a labor shortage, and the closure of hospital beds in the region – UMass Memorial Medical Center announced on Wednesday it is reopening its COVID-19 Command Center. The command center, which is distinct from the field hospital UMass Memorial Health created early in the pandemic, allows the system to manage operations, track key clinical metrics, and rapidly address patient and caregiver concerns.
MHA is in close contact with members’ pandemic response leaders as they consider what measures, including command center structures, their organizations may need to take if the uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations continues.
Michael Gustafson, M.D., president of UMass Memorial Medical Center, said in addition to a rise in cases due to the COVID variant, the command center is needed because the nurses strike at Saint Vincent’s Hospitals has taken nearly 100 beds in the region offline. He also said the medical center has 400 vacant positions and 600 caregivers who are out of work on paid leave.
In a memo to staff, Gustafson wrote, “I was optimistic earlier this summer that we were close to putting COVID-19 behind us and that we could focus on our post-COVID vision for the Medical Center. While that reality is still attainable, I must be honest and transparent with you about the significant challenges we are facing today.”
Patricia Noga, R.N., MHA’s VP of Clinical Affairs, said of the return by facilities to a more robust COVID-fighting stance, “Our hospitals and healthcare organizations are taking this most recent COVID-19 uptick incredibly seriously. They are grappling with numerous challenges as they treat a larger volume of positive patients and make the day-to-day adjustments needed to deliver safe care. Providers continue to struggle to fill job vacancies, as workforce shortages persist and many of the travel nurses installed during the initial surges are no longer available. These shortages are longstanding and permeate throughout each part of the commonwealth and the country. And as we saw throughout 2020, because bed capacity is finite, any increase in statewide hospitalizations is worthy of concern.”
Noga said MHA joins UMass Memorial Health in urging community members to get vaccinated. “No one wants to see our healthcare system – or its caregivers – stretched as they were last year,” she said. “In many ways, our healthcare community is still working to stabilize from those dark months. Getting vaccinated and following all public health guidance is the best way to protect the health of our communities and providers at this crucial time.”

Pregnant? Get Vaccinated

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, the harm from COVID-19 is far greater than any perceived threat you may get from an anti-COVID vaccine, according to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Evidence about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy has been growing,” the CDC wrote. “These data suggest that the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy. There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men.”
In addition to stressing the safety of the vaccine, the CDC noted that COVID-19 has been proven to be more harmful to those that are pregnant. “Pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk of preterm birth and might be at increased risk of other adverse pregnancy outcomes, compared with pregnant women without COVID-19,” according to the CDC.

FDA, CDC Endorse Booster Shots for Immunocompromised

The FDA has amended the emergency use authorizations for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to allow certain immunocompromised individuals to receive an extra dose. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to endorse the booster shots last Friday afternoon.
Those who have received organ transplants or who have been diagnosed with conditions that are considered to have an equivalent level of immunocompromise should get a third shot of the vaccine, according to the FDA and CDC. The booster shot recommendations do not apply to people who are not immunocompromised.
ACIP’s vote endorses a third shot of Pfizer’s vaccine for immunocompromised individuals aged 12 and over. ACIP endorsed use of the Moderna vaccine for the immunocompromised over age 18. The difference in ages is because the FDA emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines specified their use for certain age groups.

Interested in Serving on State Quality Measures Taskforce?

Healthcare quality measures are used for a variety of reasons, including as a way to measure performance in global budget-based risk contracts, and to track health equity improvements. In the recent past, the problem was that different groups – insurers, government payers, etc. – used different measures. In 2017, the state created the Quality Measure Alignment Taskforce to align the measures.
Now that taskforce is seeking members to fill vacancies. EOHHS is looking to reappoint interested existing members, add additional members to fill vacancies and increase the diversity of membership, and to refresh the scope of the taskforce.
Existing members may have their terms extended at the discretion of EOHHS. Taskforce members should express their interest in continued participation by sending an e-mail to Quality.Alignment@MassMail.State.MA.US, but need not submit a new nomination. New members are encouraged to apply through COMMBUYS.

Next MCSTAP Call-In Hour Scheduled for August 17

The Massachusetts Consultation Service for the Treatment of Addiction and Pain (MCSTAP) is holding its next case discussion call-in hour on Tuesday, August 17 from noon to 1 p.m. During the session, Laura Kehoe, M.D., an MCSTAP physician consultant, will discuss a consultation related to prescribing extended-release buprenorphine to a patient using multiple substances. The case discussion call-in hours are an opportunity for participants to hear about real, anonymized cases concerning management of chronic pain and substance use disorder, and to get input and best practices on the treatment of patients with chronic pain and/or SUD. Click here for more information and to register. CME credits are available.


Mary Moscato, the president of Hebrew SeniorLife Health Care Services and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, has been appointed to the Public Health Council by Governor Charlie Baker.
Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare announced that Ron Rittenmeyer, the system’s CEO since 2017, is stepping down, effective September 1. Dr. Saum Sutaria, president and COO of Tenet, will become CEO. Sutaria will continue to report to Rittenmeyer, who will remain as executive chairman of the company, through 2022. In Massachusetts, MetroWest Medical Center (Framingham Union Hospital and Leonard Morse Hospital) and Saint Vincent Hospital are part of Tenet Healthcare.
Len Fishman, the current director of the Gerontology Institute at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston, will be retiring on August 31. Before UMass Boston, Fishman served 12 years as CEO of Hebrew SeniorLife. During that time, he was very involved with MHA, serving on its Board of Trustees, and the association’s standing committees and advisory groups.

Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Exemption Processes:
Key Considerations for Healthcare Employers

Thursday, August 26; 12 - 12:30 p.m.

MHA’s Board of Trustees recently approved a bold policy statement, endorsing mandatory vaccination for every hospital and health system employee. Each hospital and health system will establish its own policy and timeline for mandatory vaccination, exercising their independent judgment, based on their workforce and the needs of the communities they serve, and will comply with all federal and state laws in granting appropriate medical and religious exemptions.
During this free webinar, expert faculty from Seyfarth Shaw will discuss key considerations for healthcare employers around mandatory COVID-19 vaccination exemption processes. Register today to learn about staying up-to-date and communicating with employers around such policies.

John LoDico, Editor