Hospitals, telehealth providers prepare for Hurricane Florence
- As Hurricane Florence makes landfall, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Atrium Health and Winston-Salem-based Novant are readying plans to shift resources among their facilities to meet increased demand in areas hit hardest by the storm.
- As with last year’s Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, hospital operators in Florence’s path could take a financial hit. HCA, Tenet, Community Health Systems and LifePoint Health could all see volumes dip as patients and doctors are displaced by the storm and have to reschedule appointments and procedures. CNBC noted that LifePoint is particularly vulnerable with 30% of its beds in the Carolinas.
- As hospitals hunker down and prepare for the worst, American Well, Teladoc and other telehealth providers are offering free access to services to people who can’t access their usual providers due to the storm.
Telehealth companies played a major role during last year’s brutal hurricane season, assessing needs before, during and after each storm and adjusting offerings as needed to meet victims’ needs. The governors of Texas and Florida lifted restrictions on cross-border providers so that out-of-state doctors could provide care to people in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma.
Doctor On Demand said it will provide free medical virtual visits to anyone affected by Hurricane Florence through Sept. 30. The offer covers treatment of common conditions such as sprains, back pain, coughs and congestion, anxiety and depression, but does not cover psychology or psychiatry visits. MDLive also announced free telehealth consultations for storm victims.
Health information exchanges in the affected areas are also working to facilitate patient record sharing and ensure evacuees of Hurricane Florence continue to receive needed care.
“NC HealthConnex has been working for the last two days to allow exchange of health records across state lines to provide additional support to the provider who will be treating evacuees,” Executive Director Christie Burris told Healthcare Dive via email.
Tara Cramer, executive director of the Georgia Regional Academic Community Health Information Exchange (GRAChIE) , said the HIE is “currently taking connections live and … encouraging all partners to share lists of test patients available for exchanging testing and validation.”
On Thursday, CMS announced a slew of actions to help North Carolina and South Carolina respond to the storm. They include temporarily waiving certain Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP requirements, making special enrollment in federal health insurance exchange plans available to hurricane victims and activating an emergency response program for dialysis patients.
Additionally, CMS has made it easier for Medicare beneficiaries to replace medical equipment lost or damaged in the storm and directed Medicare Advantage groups and sponsors of Part D plans to maintain beneficiary access to covered benefits. The agency has also put together a disaster preparedness toolkit for state Medicaid agencies and said it is suspending surveys and enforcement activities for healthcare facilities in the two states.
“We are coordinating with federal and local officials to make sure that our beneficiaries, many of whom are some of America’s most vulnerable citizens, have access to the healthcare they need,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.
HCA saw its net income drop 31% to $426 million in the wake of last year’s devastating hurricanes, which ravaged southeastern Texas and much of Florida. Kindred Healthcare and Catholic Health Initiatives also suffered losses directly related to the storms.
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