What We're Reading: Azar Remains HHS Secretary; Analysis of Nursing Home Safety; For-Profit Rural Hospital Closures

April 27, 2020

President Trump insisted that Alex Azar would remain HHS secretary amid reports of his imminent firing; an analysis found that several nursing homes have mismanaged the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in residents and staff; rural populations have been left stranded as several for-profit hospitals have closed amid the the COVID-19 pandemic.

Azar Remains HHS Secretary

Yesterday, President Donald Trump rejected weekend news reports suggesting that HHS Secretary Alex Azar would be fired, according to POLITICO. Reports said the administration had been growing frustrated with Azar’s management style after arguments with his deputies, and some had additionally blamed him for the mismanagement of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In a tweet, Trump rejected the reports and insisted that Azar would not be fired, with Azar additionally taking to Twitter to defend himself and the administration.

Analysis Indicates Nursing Homes Put Residents at High Risk

Closed For-Profit Hospitals Leaving Rural Populations Stranded

In an analysis of federal inspection reports from CMS, ProPublica found that 9 nursing homes put residents in “immediate jeopardy,” which follows requirements by CMS to report any cases of COVID-19 directly to the CDC. Some residents of Enumclaw Health and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home outside of Seattle, Washington, were indicated in 1 of the reports to have been exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, but in all 3 cases in which these residents were moved to a different facility wing, their roommates stayed in their rooms and staff had no instructions about using personal protective equipment when caring for them. Inspectors concluded that Enumclaw had failed to take appropriate actions related to the COVID-19 outbreak, which contributed to the infection of multiple residents and staff.Reported by The New York Times, patients in rural areas have been struggling to find access to care as several local hospitals have ceased operation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, a for-profit company, Alecto Healthcare Services, had bought 3 struggling hospitals in West Virginia and Ohio, but as conditions continued to escalate during the pandemic, doctors were fired and doors shut for good. The article included an interview with Jill Horwitz, vice dean at the University of California, Los Angeles, law school, whose research found that for-profit rural hospitals were less likely to offer needed medical services that interfered with profit, such as hospice and inpatient psychiatric care. “The goal of the for-profit is to make money,” Horwitz told the Times. “That doesn’t mean they’ll do anything to make a buck, but they have a different goal from nonprofits.”