INSIDE THE ISSUE
> HEALTHCAREers Academy
> Student Loan Forgiveness
> Vaccines for Healthcare Workers
> MHA’s Harm Reduction Conference
> Free COVID-19 Tests
> Using Alternate Beds Until May 2024
> Community Health Center Grants
MHA Launches HEALTHCAREers Academy to Expand, Diversify Workforce
Today MHA is launching its HEALTHCAREers Academy, a program focused on training the next generation of healthcare workers in high-need areas. With 19,000 estimated job vacancies in Massachusetts acute care hospitals alone, this program is just one step that MHA and its members are taking to lower barriers to entry into the healthcare field and expand the diversity of its workforce.
MHA will work with community colleges to identify candidates to work in high-need areas of healthcare, facilitate their training with additional higher education institutions, and then connect them with local healthcare organizations with open positions.
For the initial pilot program, MHA is funding scholarships to support 10 students in their training to become Behavioral Health Technicians, which are on-the-ground professionals who play an essential role in executing patient care plans that clinicians have established. In 2022, MHA found that 20% of inpatient psychiatric beds in Massachusetts are offline solely due to staffing shortages.
MHA worked with Middlesex and Roxbury Community Colleges to identify a diverse cohort of candidates, who will enroll in Regis College’s 12-week certification program this fall. Upon completion, MHA will share the cohort’s resumes and qualifications with member organizations to place the graduates directly in local hospitals and health systems.
Participants will also have access to essential skills training through the Dropout Academy’s workshops focusing on professionalism, communications, goal setting, and more. MHA will provide the cohort with a nine-month follow-up program consisting of in-person and virtual check-ins, while delivering continued support and development opportunities. Following the pilot class, MHA and its partners hope to evolve the program to include expanded class sizes and training for other high-need positions such as Certified Nursing Assistants.
“It’s clear that we need focused, creative, and streamlined strategies to bring people into healthcare careers,” said Valerie Fleishman, MHA’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer. “MHA is proud that the HEALTHCAREers model can do just that. We look forward to seeing the first class of students graduate and enter the workforce with the skills and training they need.”
“This is exactly the type of program that hospitals are looking to embrace as we work to meet the needs of today’s patients and the demographics of today’s labor market,” said Tim Quigley R.N., senior vice president, Special Projects at South Shore Health. “We know there is a wealth of talented people out there who are drawn to the mission of healthcare, but who just need the opportunity to break through. HEALTHCAREers can reach those individuals.”
“Regis College is proud to partner with MHA’s HEALTHCAREers Academy initiative that extends the university’s innovative and inclusive learning community; and empowers aspiring healthcare professionals,” said Regis College President Antoinette Hays, R.N. “Regis has nearly a century of proven experience providing high-quality education in the healthcare field, and commitment to addressing the development of a diverse and highly skilled workforce that will play a crucial role in meeting the healthcare needs of Massachusetts.”
Karen Townsend, Middlesex Community College’s Dean of Health, said, “Our students are well-prepared with extensive knowledge and training inside and outside of the classroom and are ready to step up into these much-needed roles. This is an excellent opportunity for our students to gain real-world experience while improving and diversifying the healthcare sector.”
AG’s Office Provides Info on Time-Limited Student Loan Forgiveness
Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office is reminding hospital HR departments and those from other non-profits of the availability of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program for student debts.
While the U.S. Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s student debt loan forgiveness program, the existing PSLF program can still provide relief by forgiving the remaining balance on a graduate’s Direct Loans after the individual has made 120 monthly payments while working at least 30 hours per week for the government or most types of non-profit employers. People can consolidate any non-Direct Loans (such as FFEL loans or Perkins loans) into the Direct Loan program to take advantage of the time-limited loan adjustment program. To benefit, the individual must consolidate their loans by December 31, 2023.
Updated Vaccine Requirements
The regulations on vaccination requirements for healthcare workers in Massachusetts are final and will be promulgated this Friday, September 29.
The new Department of Public Health (DPH) vaccine directives are included in updates to several DPH regulations licensing healthcare facilities, including 105 CMR 130, Hospital Licensure – the overall regulation that outlines how DPH-licensed hospitals must operate.
In summary, DPH-licensed healthcare facilities must ensure all personnel have received vaccinations for influenza and COVID-19 unless an individual is subject to an exemption. Per the regulations, an individual can decline the flu or COVID-19 vaccine for any reason. However, DPH-licensed facilities are empowered to establish policies and procedures for flu and COVID-19 vaccinations that exceed the requirements set forth in regulation. If a worker in a long-term care or hospice facility declines to be vaccinated, the facility must require staff to take mitigation efforts. A worker in a hospital, clinic, adult day health program, or EMS facility who declines vaccination may be required by their employer to take mitigation efforts. But again, such facilities can establish their own, more stringent vaccine requirement policies.
MHA’s Harm Reduction Conference Addressed the Issue from Many Angles
“Harm reduction is a movement about humanity,” said Tanagra Melgarejo, the director of National Capacity Building at the National Harm Reduction Coalition, one of many leaders presenting last Tuesday at MHA’s first conference on the principles and practice of harm reduction for those with substance use disorders.
The conference delved deep into important considerations needed to address the growing overdose crisis, including overdose prevention centers, peer recovery services, and an examination of the HEALing Communities study, with case studies from hospitals.
In an insightful conversation moderated by Andrea Pessolano from Boston Medical Center the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery, Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston) and Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield) (left to right in the photo) discussed the education and policy priorities needed to build a culture of harm reduction among policymakers and communities alike.
The Massachusetts Public Health Council’s Biannual Opioid Report update, in June of this year, showed a 2.5% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths in comparison to 2021, reaching an all-time high for the commonwealth. The report also highlighted significant racial-ethnic and geographical disparities that prompted several new initiatives that Sarah Ruiz, the director of Planning and Development at the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, shared during the conference, including harm reduction dispensary machines and standing up the Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline.
Emily Bailey, chief of Behavioral Health at MassHealth, discussed MassHealth’s continued commitment to addressing the epidemic, including new policies to reimburse for medication for opioid use disorder services initiated in emergency departments (ED), recovery support navigation services in ED settings, and coverage of over-the-counter naloxone.
A panel on “Clinical Innovations in SUD Treatment” with clinicians from various MHA member hospitals also emphasized the need to expand services into the community to meet people where they are. “Leave the office. Until people see what the lived reality is outside of the hospital, you don’t know what you need to build in the hospital,” said Justin Alves, Clinical Nurse Educator at Boston Medical Center.
Starting Today You Can Order Free COVID-19 At-Home Tests
Beginning today, September 25, every U.S. household can place an order here to receive four free COVID-19 rapid tests delivered directly to their home. The Biden Administration announced last week that it was directing $600 million to a number of coronavirus testing manufacturers to enable the free tests.
The free test mailings are a continuation of a similar program that existed during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Many households may still have some of those unused tests. The FDA urges people to check here to see if the expiration dates on those previous tests have been extended.
Use of Alternate Hospital Spaces Extended to May 2024
Recognizing that capacity issues at Massachusetts hospitals are continuing and are likely to worsen with the expected rise of respiratory illnesses during the fall and winter seasons, DPH last week once again extended the ability of hospitals to add temporary beds in alternate care spaces.
Such alternate spaces were allowed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this April DPH extended their use for six months, or to October 1. The new order issued September 18 from DPH’s Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality extends the use of temporary beds in alternate inpatient care spaces to May 1, 2024. A hospital that received permission from DPH in April to use an alternate space does not have to submit a new attestation letter to continue using that space through May 2024.
There are strict guidelines for the use of a space, including the distance between other beds, adequate lighting, privacy, staffing, and more. The temporary beds must be used for adult medical/surgical patients, and a hospital cannot remove from service psychiatric beds, substance use disorder beds, or pediatric beds in order to add the temporary adult medical/surgical beds.
Community Health Center Grants Address Care, Climate Change
The Healey Administration last week announced $20 million in grants to community health centers (CHCs) to support capital projects that address climate change and patient health.
“The commonwealth is committed to supporting healthcare providers who deliver healthcare services that meet the needs of high-risk communities and populations where they are,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh. “Not only do these community health centers provide critical care to families and individuals that would otherwise have limited access to services, but these climate resilience projects also reflect the CHC’s commitment to healthy communities.”
These four CHCs will receive $5 million each:
- Brockton Neighborhood Health Center will expand health services and replace heat pumps in the health center with more energy-efficient models.
- Community Health Center of Cape Cod will expand access by opening a new location that will be LEED silver certified and include low-income housing units.
- East Boston Neighborhood Health Center will also expand its site to be LEED certified and will include solar panels and rainwater capture.
- Greater Lawrence Family Health Center will expand its current site, including its harm reduction clinic, dental services, and on-site pharmacy. The expansion will use solar panels and storage.
The grant is funded through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and is in addition to $50 million that previously went out to 35 CHCs to fund capital improvement projects.