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Biden highlights vaccine mandates in Chicago • New hiring in budget for Cook County Health • Pediatric COVID vaccines on the way – Crain’s Chicago Business

Crain’s Health Pulse is your source for actionable, exclusive and inside news on the health care industry.

BIDEN PRAISES CONSTRUCTION COMPANY’S VACCINE MANDATE DURING VISIT: President Joe Biden escalated his campaign to pressure private employers into imposing coronavirus vaccination mandates by visiting an Elk Grove Village construction site for Clayco, a construction company that plans to require vaccinations or weekly testing for its employees.

Before his Chicago trip, the White House released a report that said 3,500 U.S. organizations already have a vaccine mandate, including 40% of hospitals and 25% of businesses, following Biden’s directive that federal workers and contractors be vaccinated and that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration draft regulations for companies with at least 100 employees. READ MORE.

Chicagoans seem to agree with the push for mandatory vaccinations, at least in schools. In the latest round of the Chicago Index poll, a collaborative effort of Crain’s and The Daily Line conducted by Colorado-based survey company Polco, Chicagoans remain most unhappy with the condition of Chicago Public Schools, but tough requirements for mask-wearing and vaccinations might make them a little more content. READ MORE.

COOK COUNTY BUDGET FEATURES HIRING HIKE FOR HEALTH CARE: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s budget calls for about 7% growth in the county’s headcount. 

Part of the budget will go toward new or expanded programs. $80 million is budgeted for mental health programming, public health and food programs; $60 million will help fund alternatives to 911 for mental health crises, housing for those recently released from prison and other “special population, and violence prevention programs for youth and young adults.

Most of the increase in headcount—from 21,877 this year to 23,467 proposed for next—is at the county’s health system. There’s a proposed 11% increase in full-time equivalent positions as Cook County Health ramps up its surgical capacity again. That’s after the system cut the employee count and announced plans to close its Woodlawn and Near South outpatient clinics in 2020 in light of COVID’s financial fallout—services in those clinics were shifted to Provident Hospital of Cook County. Grant-funded health positions are getting a proposed 39% boost next year, including to help contact tracing and vaccination outreach efforts. READ MORE.

PFIZER ASKS FDA FOR OK ON PEDIATRIC COVID-19 VACCINATIONS: Pfizer and BioNTech SE have submitted an application to U.S. regulators to administer their COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11. The Food & Drug Administration had previously scheduled an advisory committee meeting to review clinical-trial data on the pediatric vaccine for Oct. 26.

Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top adviser on COVID-19, has suggested that an emergency clearance could come by Halloween. On Thursday, White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients said the shots for children could begin before Thanksgiving. READ MORE.

The Chicago-based American Medical Association said Wednesday that it has already published new Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for vaccine administration of pediatrice doses in anticipation of approval.

ABBVIE LAWSUIT AGAINST HUMIRA RIVAL IS DISMISSED: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by AbbVie against Alvotech alleging theft of trade secrets. On Wednesday, Judge Harry D. Leinenweber of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, threw out the case for lack of jurisdiction, FiercePharma reports.

Alvotech, an Icelandic biosimilar company is developing a biosimilar of Humira.

Alvotech has a long way to go before it can launch its proposed biosimilar in the U.S., FiercePharma said, because the two companies are still involved in a patent lawsuit, in which an Illinois federal court recently said it plans to rule on the patent fight “by the end of October of 2022.”

STUDY SHOWS COVID-19 ORPHANED MINORITIES DISPROPORTIONATELY: More than 140,000 children in the U.S. experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic, a statement from the Itasca-based American Association of Pediatrics said. 

The risk of that loss was 1.1 to 4.5 times higher among children of racial and ethnic minorities, according to a pre-publication version of the study: “COVID-19-Associated Orphanhood & Caregiver Death in the United States.” The study will be published in the December 2021 issue of Pediatrics.

Data from April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, from the National Center for Health Statistics indicated that an estimated 65% of those who lost a primary caregiver were children of racial and ethnic minorities account, while white children account for 35% of those who lost a primary caregiver.

The highest burden of COVID-19-associated death of parents and primary caregivers occurred in Southern border states for Hispanic children, representing 50-67% of affected children; Southeastern states for Black children, representing 45-57% of affected children; and in states with tribal areas for American Indian/Alaska Native populations, representing 18-55% of affected children.

EAST BANK CLUB FULLY VACCINATED, CITY NOT LIKELY TO DROP MASK REQUIREMENT: East Bank Club’s members and staff are fully vaccinated as of Oct. 1, so the high-end health club wants an exemption to the city of Chicago’s mask mandate, CEO Mel Kleist said. In a statement, city officials said they have no plans to make an exception for a fully-vaccinated place of business.

As of Oct. 1, East Bank Club’s more than 8,000 adult members and 450 working staff have verified that they’re vaccinated following the mandate announced Aug. 16, Kleist said. With full vaccination, he said he planned to reach out to city officials about exempting East Bank Club from the requirement that people in indoor spaces like health clubs must wear masks. READ MORE.

SILVER CROSS ANNOUNCES $15 MINIMUM WAGE: Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox said Wednesday that, effective Oct. 3, employees will receive early merit increases, a $15 per hour minimum wage and market-based wage increases. The wage increases collectively total nearly $10 million. Merit increases traditionally given in December are two months ahead of schedule this year and is guaranteed for all employees that began work by July 1, 2021, the hospital said in a statement.

“This is an investment in our most valuable resource: the people who choose to work at our hospital,” Silver Cross Hospital President and CEO Ruth Colby said in the statement. “Retaining and recruiting the very best employees is one of our top priorities. Over the past 12 months we have recruited more than 700 employees, a significant number of which are nurses.”

NORTHWESTERN SEES GRANTS TO STUDY HEART FAILURE: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has been awarded two grants totaling $18.1 million to study the most common type of heart failure, diastolic heart failure, the medical school said in a statement. The condition affects at least 2.5 million people in the U.S., but the cardiovascular community has a very limited understanding of how to prevent or effectively treat it, the statement said.

The larger of two National Institutes of Health grants—$16.7 million—will go to Northwestern Medicine cardiologist Dr. Sanjiv Shah, director of Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute-Clinical Trials Unit,  to lead the HeartShare Data Translation Center, which will coordinate data for six sites in the program.

“In 2007, we developed the first dedicated HFpEF clinical program in the world here at Northwestern, and since that time have been a leading center for research, clinical trial enrollment and clinical care of HFpEF patients,” Shah said. 

Dr. Sadiya Khan, an assistant professor of cardiology and epidemiology at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine physician, will receive $1.4 million over the next five years to lead one of six clinical centers in the HeartShare program.

REP. RUSH INTRODUCES BILL TO DELAY PHYSICAL THERAPY MEDICARE CUTS IN UNDERSERVED AREAS: U.S. Reps. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., and Jason Smith, R-Mo., have introduced the Stabilizing Medicare Access to Rehabilitation & Therapy, or SMART, Act to delay and mitigate looming 15% cuts to the Medicare reimbursement rate for physical and occupational therapy assistants, Rush said today in a statement.

The cuts, set to go into effect in January 2022, will jeopardize employment opportunities for physical and occupational therapy assistants and leave many seniors—especially those in underserved and rural areas—with less access to critical therapy services, the statement said. The bill exempts therapy assistants in rural and medically underserved areas from the pay cuts, reduce requirements for direct supervision of therapy assistants in private practices and delay the reimbursement cuts for nonexempt providers to January 2023. 

The bill has the support of Oak Brook-based Athletico and several health care associations.

The Medicare pay cuts to occupational and physical therapist assistants will go into effect at the same time as other reductions to the Medicare fee schedule. 

Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association is urging Congress to stop cuts to Medicare before they take effect next year, citing the uncertain trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic and possible variants, Modern Healthcare reports.

Without Congressional action, Medicare will face a 4% cut triggered by the COVID-19 relief bill that passed earlier this year. Because the law raised the deficit, Medicare and other programs will be subject to spending cuts under the Pay-As-You-Go Act passed by Congress in 2010.

Congress is likely to waive PAYGO, avoiding the cuts, but will likely only do so at the last moment, putting providers on edge.

LGBTQ ADULTS STRUGGLE TO GET HEALTH CARE: A new report from AARP Illinois and SAGE details how LGBTQ older adults across Illinois are struggling to get the health care, financial security and caregiving support they desperately need, a statement from the organizations said.

The disparities demonstrate the devastating impact that decades of discrimination has had on LGBTQ older adults, the statement said.

“As we enter LGBTQ History Month, this groundbreaking research is a sobering reminder of how events of the past still play a role in the way LGBTQ adults 50+ live today. Because of decades of discrimination, LGBTQ older adults fall behind their non-LGBTQ counterparts when it comes to having health care they need, retirement savings, and caregiving support as they age,” Mary Anderson, AARP Illinois director of outreach and advocacy for Northern Illinois said in the statement.

Among the findings, the report said nearly one-third of LGBTQ older people live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level and LGBTQ older people experience mental and physical health disparities due to the lack of competent, inclusive health care, lifelong experiences of discrimination, and social isolation.

HOSPITAL MERGER AND ACQUISITION VOLUME DROPS, DEALS’ REVENUE REMAINS HIGH: There were fewer U.S. hospital and health system mergers and acquisitions in the third quarter of 2021, but the total transacted revenue and average seller size by revenue remained high, according to the latest report by Chicago-based consultancy Kaufman Hall.

There were seven transactions involving 20 hospitals announced in the third quarter, with total transacted revenue of $5.2 billion. Average seller size by revenue year-to-date was $659 million, more than double the average between 2015 and 2020. 

Experts say the 2021 trend toward a smaller number of transactions, but a higher level of large and megamerger transactions, is expected to continue. Some factors include fewer independent hospitals, with some 67% of community hospitals already part of a larger system and an emphasis on strategic partnerships in which systems are becoming much more selective in the partnerships that they pursue, the report states.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

• Gary Manning has been named senior vice president and general manager of Healthcare Delivery at Chicago-based physIQ and John Varaklis has been named chief strategy officer.

Manning held pivotal roles helping to develop innovative digital health virtual care models including at Hospital at Home, a physIQ statement said.

Varaklis has three decades of executive managerial experience at global pharmaceutical corporations including Novartis, Abbott and Roche the statement said.

• Megan Thibert-Ind has joined Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, a professional services firm, in its Chicago office. Thibert-Ind has experience representing businesses with a focus on health care stakeholders—such as hospital systems and academic medical centers, ambulatory surgery and urgent care centers, pharmacy services providers, and life sciences companies, the firm said in a statement.

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