doctor holding clipboard.

Transformation of Behavioral Health Care Through Section 1115 Waivers

By John Jacobi

As the Biden administration works to improve health access and transform health delivery, behavioral health reform should be at the front of the queue.

People with severe mental illness and opioid use disorder are dying young for lack of routine health care. Much of the work that needs to be done in behavioral health is developed or developing at the state level. But the Biden administration has a powerful tool for encouraging state-level innovation in the § 1115 Medicaid waiver process.

Reform through state waivers

Section 1115 waiver authority permits the Department of Health and Human Services to approve pilots and demonstrations if they are found likely to promote the objectives of the Medicaid program. Waivers, which do not require Congressional or formal regulatory enactments, permit relatively rapid cycling of innovation, in contrast to the lumbering pace of legislative or regulatory change.

While applications for waivers originate with the states, presidents have set the agenda by signaling what categories of waivers will be looked upon favorably, offering the administration the ability to put its stamp on the development of care for low-income and disabled people.

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Healthcare concept of professional psychologist doctor consult in psychotherapy session or counsel diagnosis health.

The Case for Non-Police Response to Behavioral Health Crises

By Jennifer J. Carroll and Taleed El-Sabawi

People who use drugs continue to die at staggering rates, due not only to overdose from contaminated drug supply, but also due to our persistent reliance on the carceral system to respond to behavioral health crises.

This approach stems from the state-sanctioned violence of the War on Drugs. It takes various forms, including the use of police officers as first responders to behavioral health crises (including welfare checks), the excessive police use of force, and the use of potentially lethal restraint methods to subdue agitated persons. It also manifests in police officers’ use of jail cells as tools for forced “detox” believing that coerced withdrawal while in custody will reduce overdose risk or help someone “go clean” (it very clearly does not).

Evidence-based alternatives to police response for behavioral health crises exist. However, despite being both feasible and effective, these alternatives to police intervention remain the exception, rather than the rule.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 06, 2020: A health care professional kneels in protest in New York City as part of the movement, 'White Coats for Black Lives,' during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scope Creep: Serving Many Roles, Health Care Providers Need a Supporting Cast

By Christian Rose

During the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians and nurses have found themselves on the frontlines of more than just medical care, advocating for their patients, their families, and themselves. Facing overwhelm and burnout at a scale hitherto unimagined, they continue to fulfill their ethical obligations to their communities and their patients. If they don’t, who will?

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Doctor Holding Cell Phone. Cell phones and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone.

Providing Cancer Care in the Age of COVID-19

By Samyukta Mullangi, Johnetta Blakeley, and Stephen Schleicher

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to oncology care; an area of medicine that typically involves frequent, in-person patient visits to complete a course of treatment.

In many ways, COVID-19 has served as a stress test for the specialty, and has catalyzed adaptive changes that we hope will make the oncology care, and the health care system in general, more resilient going forward.

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Oxygen mask as part of artificial lungs ventilation machine in surgery room, closeup.

Pandemic Highlights Need for Quality and Equity in End-of-Life Care

By Elizabeth Clayborne

I was a little less than six months pregnant when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. As an Emergency Physician, I am well aware of additional risks that my job often exposes me to on a daily basis. We frequently face physical and emotional strife from unstable psychiatric patients, critically ill nursing home residents, sexual assault victims, and newly diagnosed cancer patients.

People who work in an emergency department tend to understand what comes with the territory: a lot of hard work, unexpected outcomes, and daily traverses of the human experience, from the best emotions you can imagine, to lowest depths of human despair. This is what accompanies caring for every ailment for people from all walks of life. I actually love this part about my job! I never know what I’m going to see when I walk through the doors.

That said, being a frontline physician during COVID-19 has provided me with a profoundly different lens on the pressures surrounding health care workers. And experiencing this while pregnant was pretty terrifying.

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New York City, New York / USA - May 2 2020: New York City healthcare workers during coronavirus outbreak in America.

Pandemic Threatens Future of Emergency Medical Services

By Benjamin Podsiadlo

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed persistent, wide-ranging existential threats to effective 911 emergency response.

The EMS (Emergency Medical Services) system, which sits at the intersection of emergency medicine and public safety, is the out-of-hospital component of the acute care health care system. The EMS mission is targeted at identifying, responding, assessing, treating, and entering suddenly ill and injured patients in the community into the health care system.

The EMS system’s viability is entirely dependent upon the capacity of its workforce of EMTs, paramedics, and 911 EMS telecommunicators to respond 24/7/365.

The devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on EMS include: severe damage to workforce sustainability; grossly insufficient logistical resourcing; and further erosion of cohesive system identity.

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Healthcare workers carrying signs protest for improved Covid-19 testing and workplace safety policies outside of UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles,Dec. 9, 2020.

Beyond 20/20: The Post-COVID Future of Health Care

By Cynthia Orofo

There are two experiences I will never forget as a nurse: the first time I had to withdraw care from a patient and the first day working on a COVID ICU.

Both were unforgiving reminders that the ICU is a demanding place of work that will stress you in every way. But the latter experience was unique for a few particular reasons. Before the end of that first shift, I had overheard several staff members on the floor speak about their fears, thoughts of the unknown, and their version of the “new normal.” As I realized that life would almost certainly not be the same, I developed my own vision of the “new normal” of health care.

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Emergency department entrance.

Pandemic Lays Bare Shortcomings of Health Care Institutions

By Lauren Oshry

In 1982, when AIDS was first described, I was a first-year medical student in New York City, the epicenter of the epidemic in the U.S. To the usual fears of a medical student — fears of failing to understand, to learn, to perform — was the added fear of contracting a debilitating and universally fatal infection, for which there was no treatment. But our work felt urgent and valued, and the camaraderie among medical students and our mentors is now what I remember most.

Nearly forty years later, my experience as an attending oncologist during COVID-19 has been different. Yes, I am older and less naïve, but also this pandemic has been managed in fundamentally different ways. Aside from the obvious federal mismanagement, my own institution has deeply disappointed me. The institutional shortcomings we had long tolerated and adapted to were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, and massively failed our patients and morally devastated those of us on the frontlines.

As a provider in a large safety net hospital, I care for a predominantly minority population in the lowest economic bracket. These would be the individuals disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with highest rates of infection and worse outcomes. My patients have the additional burden of cancer.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Emergency medical technician wearing protective gown and facial mask amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 5, 2020 in New York City.

Don’t Call Me a Hero: How to Meaningfully Support Health Care Workers

By Molly Levene

“Heroes Work Here.”

Sometimes those three short words make me angry; other times they make me cry.

I was one among thousands of EMTs and paramedics who were deployed to New York through FEMA last year. Having studied public health in school and worked in EMS for over a year, I thought I had seen the extent to which we fail patients; I believed myself disillusioned enough to be prepared for any injustice or chaos I might encounter.

But last April, I quickly learned I was wrong. And when you feel complicit in such deep structural dysfunction, it is incredibly difficult to feel heroic.

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