Thanks to a temporary waiver from a federal agency, Oklahoma hospitals can transfer patients to care facilities like nursing homes with less red tape.
“This is just something that we need to do to create more capacity as our COVID numbers keep expanding,” said Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association.
Davis said the waiver expedites the process of transferring patients from a hospital to a care facility, assuming the facility is able to provide care necessary for the patient.
Patients who would be eligible for such a transfer would likely require no acute care, but not be able to be left totally alone.
“That opens up that bed they were in the hospital for someone else that is more acutely ill,” Davis said.
Melody Anthony, Chief Operating Officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services granted Oklahoma’s request for the waiver on Dec. 31.
“It was a great New Year’s Eve present,” Anthony said. She said the state first requested the waiver in April. “It’s one tool that the state has in order to move people through the continuum of care.”
The waiver is in effect until the end of the federal public health emergency declaration, which expires on April 21 but could be extended.
Normally, transferring a hospital patient is a months-long process that relies on the Oklahoma Department of Human Services confirming the patient qualifies for Medicare, which provides the funding for the care facility’s service.
The waiver provides the patient presumptive eligibility they qualify for Medicare, which expedites the transfer.
“The whole purpose of presumptive eligibility is to start the process while still in the hospital,” Davis said.
Anthony said the state will communicate with nursing homes to ask if they have space available for patients and will offer information on the waiver to hospitals. “If nursing facilities have the beds available, do they also have the staff and the capacity to work with those patients?”
The waiver comes as many Oklahoma hospitals report capacity restraints.
Dr. Sam Ratermann, a family medicine physician at Integris Grove Hospital said they had to transfer patients to the Kansas City and St. Louis areas recently because of a lack of beds nearby.
“As soon as a bed opens up, it’s filled almost immediately. Not just from people in this region, but we’re taking transfers from all over the state,” Ratermann said.
In response to increased hospitalizations statewide, the Integris Health is preparing to possibly ration care if the number of patients surpasses supplies and space.