CMS launches hospital-at-home program to free up hospital capacity


The agency is also giving ASCs the flexibility to provide 24-hour nursing services only when one or more patients are receiving care on site. This flexibility will be available to any of the 5,700 ASCs that wish to participate, and will be immediately effective for the 85 ASCs currently participating in the Hospital Without Walls initiative, the CMS said.

The new ASC regulations, the CMS said, are aimed at allowing communities “to maintain surgical capacity and other life-saving non-COVID-19 [care], like cancer surgeries.” Patients who need such procedures will be able to receive them in ASCs without being exposed to known COVID-19 cases.

Similarly, the CMS said patients and families not diagnosed with COVID-19 may prefer to receive acute care at home if local hospitals are full of COVID-19 patients. In addition, the CMS said it anticipates patients may value the ability to be treated at home without the visitation restrictions of hospitals.

Early HaH participants

Six health systems with extensive experience in providing acute hospital care at home have been approved for the new HaH waivers from Medicare rules. They include Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Massachusetts); Huntsman Cancer Institute (Utah); Massachusetts General Hospital (Massachusetts); Mount Sinai Health System (New York City); Presbyterian Healthcare Services (New Mexico); and UnityPoint Health (Iowa).

The CMS said that it’s in discussions with other health care systems and expects new applications to be submitted soon.

To support these efforts, the CMS has launched an online portal to streamline the waiver request process. The agency said it will closely monitor the program to safeguard beneficiaries and will require participating hospitals to report quality and safety data on a regular basis.

Support from hospitals

The first health systems participating in the CMS HaH appear to be supportive of the program, with some hospital leaders submitting comments to the CMS about their view of the initiative.

“The CMS has taken an extraordinary step today, facilitating the rapid expansion of Hospitalization at Home, an innovative care model with proven results,” said Kenneth L. Davis, MD, president and CEO of the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. “This important and timely move will enable hospitals across the country to use effective tools to safely care for patients during this pandemic.”

David Levine, MD, assistant professor of medicine and medical director of strategy and innovation for Brigham Health Home Hospital in Boston, was similarly laudatory: “Our research at Brigham Health Home has shown that we can deliver hospital-level care in our patients’ homes with lower readmission rates, more physical mobility, and a positive patient experience,” he said. “During these challenging times, a focus on the home is critical. We are so encouraged that CMS is taking this important step, which will allow hospitals across the country to increase their capacity while delivering the care all patients deserve.”

Scaling up quickly

If other hospitals and health systems recognize the value of HaH, how long might it take them to develop and implement these programs in the midst of a pandemic?

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