Pritzker, IHA urge postponing surgeries • Bain eyes purchase of

GOVERNOR, HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION SEEK TO FORESTALL OVERWHELMING HEALTH CARE HERE: Anticipating an omicron-driven post-holiday surge on top of the existing surge, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Health & Hospital Association said Thursday hospitals should postpone non-emergency procedures to maintain and expand bed capacity. 

A joint statement said Illinois hospitals have so far been successful in avoiding being overwhelmed by rising COVID cases as has been the case in other states. Pritzker asked the people of the state to “please understand that the nation is experiencing high COVID transmission rates, and some surgeries in Illinois will be postponed. We’re asking our residents to temporarily hold off on important medical care like tonsillectomies, bariatric surgeries and hernia repair.”

At the University of Chicago Medicine Center there were 206 patients with COVID-19 as of the morning of Dec. 30, up 199% from Dec. 10, according to an all-staff memo from Chief Operating Officer Jason Keeler.

“Staffing in certain clinical units remains critically tight due to a high number of COVID-19-related absences, which are being driven by community spread of the virus.” Keeler said in the memo. “As a result, we are adding more telehealth visits and carefully evaluating our surgical schedule to make sure we have capacity to safely care for current patients and those with urgent and emergency needs. These adjustments are being made on a case-by-case (or unit-by-unit) basis. We may need to take more significant measures next week as staff infections increase and we experience an increase in COVID-19 cases after the holidays.”

UChicago has instituted an early-return program for employees who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 which, the memo said, “mirrors similar efforts at other hospitals around the country and is designed to safely bring low-risk employees back to work in critically understaffed areas.” The program requirements include that an employee be fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, be asymptomatic or have only mild infection, be not immunocompromised and that the employee provide critical staffing in specialty areas with no alternate staff to cover.

Sinai Chicago System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Russel Fiorella said Dec. 31 that the two-hospital safety net system is not yet delaying procedures across the board. Fiorella said that on the 31st the system had about 15% capacity available in its ICU and some 60 COVID patients in hospital beds, up dramatically from a few months ago, but only two-thirds of the way toward early pandemic levels that at time topped 100 inpatients. But now, having adequate, fresh staff available is a much bigger problem, he said.

“Health care providers are very, very tired. This is going on almost two years,” Fiorella said. “And there’s really nothing you can do. But I am so proud of the staff and administration for working through this together. What health care workers are doing is really heroic.” READ MORE.

VISITOR POLICIES AMONG THE FIRST THING TO GO: A number of health systems have already cut off visitor access to patients, with exceptions like allowing caregivers to be present for pediatric patients, labor and delivery and for patients with certain physical or mental disabilities.

As of Dec. 30, Advocate Aurora, which early in the month made limited cutbacks to its visitors’ policy, has now re-implemented the strict no-visitor policy from the early days of the pandemic.

The system has reported steadily increasing COVID-19 inpatient cases over the last month in both its Illinois and Wisconsin hospitals.

On Dec. 29, AAH’s Illinois inpatient caseload was 779, up 272% from Nov. 29. In Wisconsin, the 445 inpatient cases represented a 52% increase since Nov. 29.

At Edward Elmhurst Health, a no-visitors policy was also put into place, with some exceptions. Anyone approved to visit or stay with a patient must have no active COVID infection, no exposure to the virus in 14 days and must wear a mask at all times, the policy states.

Northwestern Medicine on Dec. 30 announced visitor limits but did not go as far as other systems. For example, patients in private rooms are allowed two visitors at a time, so long as they meet several COVID-related conditions, according to the policy.

PRIVATE-EQUITY GROUP REPORTEDLY APPROACHED WALGREENS ABOUT BOOTS BUY: U.S. private-equity firm Bain Capital recently approached Walgreens Boots Alliance about a potential purchase of its U.K. drugstore chain Boots, the times of London reported, without saying where it got the information. 

Bain is positioning itself as a front-runner for an upcoming auction of the unit, which may be worth 6 billion pounds ($8.1 billion) to 7 billion pounds, the newspaper said. READ MORE. 

HILL-ROM FACES ANTITRUST LAWSUIT FROM RIVAL BEDMAKER: Hill-Rom Holdings faces a lawsuit by rival Linet over allegedly monopolistic behavior by which the medical supply powerhouse ices competitors through anti-competitive practices. In a lawsuit filed Dec. 29, Linet says Hill-Rom, which was recently acquired by medical products giant Baxter for $10.5 billion, captured the business of large health systems such as Providence Health, Cleveland Clinic and Universal Health by bundling multiple product contracts under one corporate enterprise agreement that trumped Linet’s growing marketshare through group purchasing organizations. Hill-Rom and Baxter did not respond to requests for comment. READ MORE.

ACADIA RESPONDS TO PUBLIC GUARDIAN’S CRITICISM AHEAD OF REOPENING UPTOWN BEHAVIORAL HEALTH HOSPITAL: In response to concerns voiced by the Cook County Public Guardian regarding plans to reopen a children’s behavioral health hospital in 2022, Acadia Healthcare insists it can help, and protect, youth needing behavioral health care, despite the population’s “significant challenges.”

Franklin, Tenn.-based Acadia recently announced plans to reopen the facilities formerly owned by Aurora Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, which closed in April 2020 amid allegations of child abuse, which caused it to lose its ability to bill Medicare and had Illinois seeking to revoke its license.

Public Guardian Charles Golbert, who accuses the former owners of Chicago Lakeshore in a lawsuit of abusing children in its care, also said he routinely objects to Illinois Department of Children & Family Service placement in out-of-state Acadia hospitals because of problems at Acadia facilities in Michigan, Indianapolis, Arkansas and Montana.

In response, Gretchen Hommrich, vice president of investor relations at Acadia said in an emailed statement:

“As you will likely hear from the Public Guardian, the youth that Montrose Behavioral Health Hospital will serve – whether through DCFS or other partners – are a very high-risk population with significant challenges. We bring the necessary experience and expertise to treat this underserved population.

“As part of this transaction, we have engaged in many substantive conversations with numerous agencies in Illinois to discuss the care we will provide as well as how all parties will respond when an adverse situation arises. When treating a population with high-risk issues, it is likely that an adverse event will occur and our efforts will focus on prevention, mitigation, and substantive response to that event. 

“We are very mindful of what has occurred in the past with these hospitals. And we are very focused on taking all proactive steps necessary to align our programs and services to the needs of the patients as well as the outcomes that we all want for these children. One of the first steps that is already in motion is to meet with all of the important stakeholders – IDPH, DCFS, Medicaid officials, juvenile justice and law enforcement leaders, insurance providers, regulatory agencies, child welfare advocates, and Disability Rights advocates – to create a shared vision and understanding on best practices for the care and treatment of high-risk and vulnerable youth. The stated goals are to ensure care that is supported by best practices and grounded in solid evidence-based clinical care. We believe that by having these important conversations before we open, we will have very beneficial partnerships that put our patients first in our relationship with any public agencies or private payers we may work with in the future.

“Among other things, the new Montrose Behavioral Health Hospital will be licensed by IDPH, certified by CMS, and accredited by the Joint Commission. Our clinical programs for youth services will include established clinical best practices that focus on the unique needs of each patient and protocols that will be individualized with emphasis on stabilization of acute symptoms, life skill acquisition, appropriate leisure skill development, other proven approaches to care. The team will include physicians, nurse practitioners, applied behavioral analysts, education support specialists, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and mental health associates. Emphasis will be placed on after-care services to include family/caregiver support and education, and outpatient services as needed.”

XERIS GETS FDA OK ON CUSHING’S SYNDROME DRUG: Chicago-based biopharmaceutical maker Xeris Biopharma Holdings said the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved its cortisol synthesis inhibitor Recorlev for the treatment of endogenous hypercortisolemia in adult patients with Cushing’s syndrome.

Cushing’s syndrome is a severe, potentially life-threatening rare disease and “most patients endure years of symptoms prior to obtaining a diagnosis and are then faced with limited effective treatment options,” Leslie Edwin, president of the Cushing’s Support & Research Foundation said in a statement.

Xeris Chairman and CEO Paul R. Edick said in a statement that the approval “reinforces the value that we saw in acquiring Strongbridge Biopharma’s attractive rare disease portfolio, which we believe will deliver compelling long-term value to our shareholders. We look forward to making Recorlev commercially available in the first quarter.” 

UCHICAGO TO EXPAND ORLAND PARK CLINIC: University of Chicago Medicine is moving forward with an $18.5 million expansion of its Orland Park outpatient facility following approval by the Illinois Health Facilities & Services Review Board.

The project will add 17 multispecialty examination rooms, a procedure suite with two rooms equipped for GI endoscopy and colonoscopy and a dedicated space for cardiac and vascular imaging, UChicago Medicine said in a statement. The expansion is expected to be completed in spring 2023 and will add about 23,000 square feet to the current 108,000-square-foot space.

KINDRED MERGER WITH LIFEPOINT COMPLETED: LifePoint Health and Kindred Health said they have closed their transaction and formed a new company, ScionHealth, consisting of 61 of Kindred’s long-term acute care hospitals and 18 of LifePoint’s community hospitals, Modern Healthcare reports.

ScionHealth is expected to produce about $3.5 billion in annual revenue. Kindred has six facilities in Illinois, including Kindred Chicago Lakeshore, Kindred Hospital Chicago – North and Kindred Hospital – Northlake.

AMA, OTHERS FILE AMICUS BRIEF ON OSHA VACCINATION REQUIREMENT LAWSUIT: The Chicago-based American Medical Association and 15 other medical organizations urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject recent challenges and preserve the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 vaccination and testing for large businesses.

The amicus brief cites workplace transmission as a major factor in the spread of COVID-19 and says the OSHA emergency temporary standard is a critical, necessary tool to safeguard millions of Americans in the workplace, bolster vaccination rates and help bring the pandemic to an end, AMA said in a statement.

ICYMI: COOK COUNTY MATCHES CITY ON PROOF-OF-VACCINATION MANDATE: Cook County joined the city of Chicago in requiring patrons prove their fully vaccinated status at certain indoor venues, including bars, restaurants and gyms. The ban, like Chicago’s, takes effect Jan. 3. READ MORE.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE: 

Oak Street Health has made changes to its executive team effective Jan. 1: Former Chief Operating Officer Geoff Price has taken the newly formed role of chief innovation officer and Oak Street’s president, Brian Clem, has moved into the COO role, the Chicago-based network of value-based primary care centers for adults on Medicare said.


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