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NASHP meets the Emerald City

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A Senior Consultant in BerryDunn’s Medicaid Practice Group, Nicole supports clients with managed care programs and Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) strategic planning, implementation, and oversight.

Nicole Spears
10.05.22

Read this if you are at a Medicaid agency.

After attending this year’s NASHP Conference, I realized Seattle wasn’t the only gem I found. The city welcomed a record number of NASHP attendees, including many first timers, who brought with them a passion for the vital work they do to support Medicaid and health and human services agencies across the nation. Executive Director Tewarson led her first conference with finesse, and the entire conference exemplified her team’s passion and dedication to state health policy. 
 
The 35th annual conference was full of fresh ideas and a collaborative spirit. As I reflect over the three days of the conference, some ideas I am taking back to my team include:

  • Workforce challenges are here to stay—and are only becoming more severe, requiring states to rethink hiring, training, and staffing among healthcare providers at all levels. Actions to consider:
    • Work to help ensure we allocate appropriate funding for behavioral health and clinical staff. 
    • Encourage more diversity in the field. This means having more representation in the workforce for new hires to identify with, including recruiting and training staff, so they feel welcome and encouraged to join.
    • Increase support for highly skilled jobs like CNAs and childcare workers. Our system cannot work without these staff, and the skills they bring to the table are crucial to the field, developed over time, and indispensable.
    • Start planning now to address the potential loss of childcare dollars to avoid exacerbating the workforce shortage challenges.
    • Identify other ways to help the workforce with benefits and support that can go a long way toward recruiting and retaining experienced caregivers. 
  • Disparities in health equity were always there, and the pandemic laid them bare. 
    • We need to assess the impact of all initiatives to help ensure they aren’t creating additional health inequities and develop strategies to rectify existing barriers.
    • We should bring those experiencing health inequities to the table, listen to their struggles, and let them lead us to solutions.
    • We need to build a diverse workforce that will bring more voices and ideas into the room in this arena.
  • There is a lot of innovative work going on in child behavioral health that can impact outcomes:
    • Providing youth mental health first-aid training and trauma-informed training to school-based, nonclinical staff is crucial to addressing the children’s behavioral health crisis. Children spend so much time at school and build trust in teachers, bus drivers, custodians, and administrative staff.
    • Training school staff on the use of mobile crisis units to avoid children inappropriately becoming involved in the juvenile justice system or being treated in emergency rooms.
    • Putting clinical staff in schools, even via telehealth or part-time, has shown positive outcomes for child behavioral health.
  • We may not know when the Public Health Emergency will end. Still, we can spend this time developing and improving our plans for unwinding, setting consistent expectations with our members and meeting them where they are, developing strategies to make successful emergency provisions permanent, and engaging our legislatures now to prepare for the upcoming federal funding gap.
  • The most significant success factor in every session I attended was breaking down silos across health and human services agencies. We need to continue working across programs, agencies, and states to help ensure we are innovating, growing, and providing the best care for those our policies and programs serve.
  • Lastly, as a foster-adopt mom, I was heartened to hear the speakers consistently bring the topic back to focus on some of our most vulnerable youth: children in foster and kinship care and our justice-involved youth. The call to collaboration and partnerships across child welfare, juvenile justice, public health, county health departments, and Medicaid agencies to impact change was not lost on me, and I found my passion for improving our foster care system invigorated by the passion of those around me.

I am thankful for organizations like NASHP that help us come together to innovate and collaborate on the biggest problems facing our industry today. NASHP’s mission to support the development of policies that promote and sustain healthy people and communities, advance high-quality and affordable health care, and address health equity is needed now more than ever. The 2022 conference allowed us to collaborate and share innovations that can be used to help propel us in our essential work to improve the health and lives of the individuals we serve.
 
My biggest takeaway was that we are stronger when we work together. I’m excited to hear what your biggest takeaways were this year. It has energized me to continue this critical work to help Medicaid agencies improve the health and lives of our residents. I do not doubt that this group will take back all the lessons and work to improve the lives of the residents of their states, and we will all gather in Boston next year, excited to hear of all the new successes. See you next year!

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Read this if you are in the senior living industry.

Happy New Year! While it may be a new calendar year, the uncertainties facing senior living facilities are still the same, and the question remains: When will the Public Health Emergency end, and how will it impact operations? Federal and state relief programs ended in 2022, and facilities are trying to find ways to fund operations as they face low occupancy levels. Inflation was at 7.1% in November and staffing remains a significant challenge. So, what can the industry expect for 2023?

Occupancy

Through the pandemic, occupancy losses were greater in nursing facilities than in assisted living (AL) and independent living (IL) facilities. This trend of care shifting away from nursing facilities had started before the onset of the pandemic. From 2018-2020, nursing facility volume decreased by over 5% while AL facilities occupancy increased by 1.1%.

Nursing facility occupancy nationwide was 80.2% in January of 2020 and declined to as low as 67.5% in January 2021. In 2022, nursing facility occupancy began to recover. As of December 18, 2022, nationwide occupancy had rebounded to 75.8%.

The assisted living and independent living markets were certainly impacted by the pandemic but not to the extent of the nursing facilities. AL and IL occupancy was reported at 80.9% in March 2021, a record low occupancy for the industry. Through the third quarter of 2022, NIC reported IL occupancy at 84.7%, which was up from 83.8% in the second quarter of 2022. AL occupancy was at 79.7%. in the third quarter of 2022. 

Providers are starting to see some positive signs with occupancy, but are reporting the recovery has been slowed by staffing shortages.

Cost of capital

The lending market is tightening for senior living providers and occupancy issues are negatively impacting facilities bottom lines. In addition, there has been significant consolidation in the banking industry. As a result, interest and related financing costs have risen. For those facilities that aren’t able to sustain their bottom lines and are failing financial covenants, lenders are being less lenient on waivers and in some cases, lenders are imposing default lending rates. 

Ziegler reports in their Winter 2022 report the lending market for senior housing is beginning to pick up. The majority of the lenders surveyed were regional banks, and reported they are offering both fixed and floating rate loans. Lenders are also reporting an increased scrutiny on labor costs coupled with looking at a facility’s ability to increase occupancy. 

Despite these challenges, analysts are still optimistic for 2023 as inflation seems to be tapering, which will hopefully lead to a stabilization of interest rates.

Staffing

Changes to five-star rating
In July 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) modified the five-star rating to include Registered Nurse (RN) and administrator turnover. The new staffing rating adds new measures, including total nurse staffing hours per resident day on the weekends, the percentage of turnover for total nursing staff and RNs, and the number of administrators who have left the nursing home over a 12-month period.

Short-term this could have a negative impact on facilities ratings as they are still struggling to recruit and retain nursing staff. The American Healthcare Association has performed an analysis, and on a nationwide basis these changes resulted in the number of one-star staffed facilities rising from 17.71% to 30.89%, and the percentage of one-star overall facilities increasing from 17.70% to 22.08%.

Staffing shortages 
Much like the occupancy trend, nursing facilities faced staffing issues even before the pandemic. From 2018 to 2020, the average number of full-time employees dropped at a higher rate, 37.1%, than admissions, 15.7%. Data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and CMS Payroll Based Journal reporting shows nursing facilities lost 14.5% of their employees from 2019-2021 and assisted living facilities lost 7.7% over the same time period. This unprecedented loss of employment across the industry is leading to burnout and will contribute to future turnover.

This loss of full-time employees has created a ripple effect across the healthcare sector. Nursing facilities are unable to fully staff beds and have had to decline new admissions. This is causing strain on hospital systems as they are unable to place patients in post-acute facilities, creating a back log in hospitals and driving up the cost of care.

While the industry continues to experience challenges recruiting and retaining employees, the labor market is starting to swing in the favor of providers. Some healthcare sectors have recovered to pre-pandemic staffing levels. Providers are also starting to report lower utilization of contract labor.

While the industry continues to experience challenges recruiting and retaining employees, the labor market is starting to swing in the favor of providers. 

Minimum staffing requirement
CMS is expected to propose a new minimum staffing rule by early spring 2023. Federal law currently requires Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes provide 24-hour licensed nursing services, which are “sufficient to meet nursing needs of their residents”. CMS issued a request for information (RFI) as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 Skilled Nursing Facility Prospective Payment System Proposed Rule. CMS received over 3,000 comments with differing points of view but prevailing themes from patient advocacy groups regarded care of residents, factors impacting facilities' ability to recruit and retain staff, differing Medicaid reimbursement models, and the cost of implementing a minimum staffing requirement. In addition to the RFI, CMS launched a study that includes analysis of historical data and site visits to 75 nursing homes. 

In a study conducted by the American Healthcare Association, it is estimated an additional 58,000 to 191,000 FTEs will be needed (at a cost of approximately $11.3 billion) to meet the previously recommended 4.1 hours per patient day minimum staffing requirements.

One potential consequence of the minimum staffing requirement is higher utilization of agency staffing. Nursing facilities saw a 14.5% decrease in staffing through the pandemic and are still struggling to recruit and retain full-time staff. To meet the minimum staffing requirements, providers may need to fill open positions with temporary staffing. 

Provider Relief Funds (PRF) 

Don’t forget if you received PRF funds in excess of $10,000 between July 1 and December 31, 2021, Phase 4 reporting period opened January 1, 2023, and will close March 31, 2023.
Many of the changes to the industry brought on by the pandemic are likely to remain. Facilities who are putting a focus on their staff and working to create a positive work environment are likely to keep employees for longer.

While there are many challenges in the current environment, they were made to be met, and we are here to help. If you have any questions or would like to talk about your specific needs, please contact our senior living team. Wishing you a successful 2023.
 

Article
Status of the senior living industry: The good, the bad, and the uncertain

Read this if you are a part of the gaming industry.

The gaming industry has bounced back during 2021 and 2022 following pandemic-related declines, but a potential economic downturn will likely impact consumer behavior and have effects for gaming businesses. Though recessionary concerns may prompt some consumers to rein in spending, several factors point to resilience in the gaming industry, including customer retention initiatives, the growth of digital gaming and sports betting, and the continued allure of experiences offered by casino resorts.

Instead of merely weathering a potential recession, gaming companies can position for sustained success by reviewing strategic plans and focusing on key business objectives. Financial discipline will be another priority, particularly if changes in consumer spending affect revenue growth during 2023.

Retention has a big payoff in a recessionary environment

Despite the rate of inflation in the US reaching levels not seen in more than 40 years during 2022, consumer spending has remained relatively strong. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), disposable personal income and personal consumption expenditures both increased slightly more than expected during September. Interest rates have continued to rise, however, and there are indications that some consumers are delaying the purchase of big-ticket items, which suggests a slowdown in some areas of spending.

To help mitigate the effects of a potential recession, gaming companies may consider shifting more attention to customer retention in addition to customer acquisition. That strategy could be especially important for sports betting, a subsector that has invested heavily in customer acquisition in recent years—and may not be as recession-proof as some had predicted. According to a TransUnion study, 54% of US sports bettors earn at least $100,000 per year, but even high-income earners show signs of cutting back on discretionary spending like gambling. Nevertheless, many sportsbooks have seen relatively low rates of customer churn this year despite inflation, which could be due partly to the growth in popularity of unique multi-leg wagers such as same-game parlays.

High costs for customer acquisition due to digital competition can pose challenges for companies trying to grow their consumer base, and recessionary pressures make it even more important to keep existing customers engaged. Fragmentation and evolving competition also complicate predictions for the lifetime value of a new customer. The longer a customer stays, however, the bigger the return on initial acquisition costs.

Retention strategies

Strategies that focus on retention can help reduce churn amid growing recessionary pressures. These strategies vary for different types of companies, such as online gambling (iGaming), land-based casinos, or a hybrid of online and on-premises gaming. Taking steps to improve customer experience and leverage data analytics can both help increase engagement. Such initiatives can include customized loyalty and reward programs based on a customer’s unique habits, as well as data insights about the most popular types of games and bets that enable cross-promotion. Reload bonuses, referral bonuses, free bets, and percentage back on losses are examples of other strategies to help keep existing players engaged. Critically, even small improvements in retention can have a significant impact on margins and profitability.

Growth potential remains, but a downturn would impact industry subsectors differently

If recessionary pressures prove to be a drag on consumer spending in the months ahead, it may affect some gaming sectors differently than others. Even if consumers reduce discretionary spending, casino resorts could still fare well because of their diversified offerings, but they also have much higher operating costs than dedicated iGaming companies. Land-based casinos in particular should practice financial discipline and manage labor costs. They can achieve this by maintaining balanced staffing levels, expanding electronic casino games, and adopting cashless gaming and digital payments.

Overall, casino resorts can provide a relatively affordable range of unique leisure experiences. People remain eager to travel after dealing with pandemic-related restrictions, and recent TSA checkpoint data indicates airport activity has been near or above 2019 levels. BEA data also indicates that consumer spending on services, such as travel and dining, has outpaced spending on goods in recent months.

Although research has shown flat levels of growth for casino gambling during previous recessions, the industry has seen several notable changes in recent years. Digital gaming remains a convenient option for consumers and has experienced a spike in adoption in recent years, which aids both digital-only operators and land-based casinos that offer a digital component. Casino resorts can also use data-backed insights to help convert their online customers into on-premises customers through targeted offers and other marketing initiatives.

Sports betting has also grown rapidly during the past five years, which provides an accessible platform for a much larger population of customers than previously. Before the US Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, only a few states could claim partial exemption to the 1992 federal ban on sports betting. As of November 2022, more than 30 states and the District of Columbia allow sports betting, and additional states are considering similar legislation.

Recession-related shifts in discretionary spending may not impact gaming as much as other consumer sectors. A May 2022 YouGov poll of 16 countries shows that while monthly gamblers may cut back on betting, they are more likely to reduce spending in other areas to maintain their monthly budget. A recession would still likely impact growth, so it is critical for gaming companies to protect revenue during a downturn.

Other developments also hold promise for the gaming industry. Casino stocks recently surged following China’s announcement of eased travel restrictions that would allow tour groups into Macau, the world's largest gambling jurisdiction. Overall, publicly traded gaming companies have enjoyed relatively strong earnings during 2022 despite market volatility, and many analysts have maintained “buy” ratings. A downturn could also give well-capitalized companies an opportunity to gain market share through acquisitions and partnerships.

Looking ahead: A sure thing

To help guard against the impact of recessionary pressures, managing costs and finding efficiencies will continue to be priorities. However, cutting back spending across the board can constrain growth and exacerbate customer churn. By combining financial discipline with a business strategy tailored to the effects of a potential downturn, gaming companies can continue the pandemic recovery and even thrive during volatility.

Article
Beyond weathering the storm: How the gaming industry can succeed during economically challenging times 

Read this if you use QuickBooks Online.

Let's talk about where records for products and services are used in QuickBooks Online.

To create a product or service record, you hover your mouse over Sales in the left vertical pane on the main page and click Products and services. Click New in the upper right corner and open a blank record for an Inventory or Non-inventory part, a Service, or a Bundle (assembly). Once you complete a record and save it, it will appear in the list back on the Product and services page.

Working with products and services

That’s where we’ll start today, on the Products and services screen. This is a comprehensive table, a dashboard (or home page) for your products and services. It displays real-time information about your items’ pricing and inventory levels, as well as their type and tax status. At the top of the page, you’ll see big, colorful buttons that provide a total of the number of items that are low on stock or out of stock. When you click on one, a list of those products appears.

QuickBooks Online’s Products and services page displays inventory levels and warns you when your stock is low and at zero.

Each row on this screen contains details about the item listed there, like Description, Sales Price and Cost, and Qty On Hand. If you look down at the end of the row, you’ll see options for several types of Actions: Edit, Make inactive, Run report, and Duplicate. Click the gear icon above the table to modify the columns in the table. 

The More menu at the top of the screen contains more options: Manage categories, Run reports, and Price rules. If you want to know what actions you can take on multiple items simultaneously, check the box in front of each and click the Batch actions menu, over to the right (Adjust quantity, Reorder, etc.).

Warning: Be very careful using the Adjust quantity option. There are legitimate reasons for employing it, but you need to make very sure that you understand how this will affect other areas of your accounting. Please ask us if you’re unsure.

Using products and services in transactions

Once you start using product and service records in transactions, you’ll see why we suggested that you create those early on and make them as comprehensive as possible. While you can add products and services in the process of creating an invoice, for example, it’s much easier if you have them ready to go.

Let’s look at a sales receipt to see how this works. Click +New in the upper right corner and select Sales receipt. Select a Customer in the first field and verify that the related fields on the form were filled out correctly. Check and make any changes necessary in the Sales receipt date, Payment method, and Deposit to fields. 

Once you’ve built up a list of products and services, they’ll be available when you create transactions.

Enter the Service Date, and then click the down arrow in the field under Product/Service. The top of the list has an entry labeled +Add new. Click it if you need to add a product or service on the fly, or just select the existing one that you want. QuickBooks Online will fill in the Rate, Amount, and Tax (status). You only have to enter the Qty (quantity) that you’re selling. 

If you have more items or services to add, you can do so on the next line(s). When you’re done, check the numbers in the lower right and save the transaction. QuickBooks Online will adjust your inventory to account for any items you just sold. You can see this change by going back to the Products and Services screen. Or you can run reports, including:

  • Sales by Product/Service
  • Product/Service List
  • Inventory Valuation Detail
  • Physical Inventory Worksheet

Supply chain woes?

It seems that the serious supply chain problems we were experiencing in previous months have eased up some, but you may still be having trouble stocking some items. We hope this isn’t affecting you too much. 

QuickBooks Online, though, can help ensure that you know ahead of time when you must reorder. Its inventory-tracking capabilities can also alert you to items that aren’t selling well, so you don’t get overstocked on anything. And the ability to pull up product and service records when you’re creating transactions saves time and keeps your inventory levels accurate. Please let the Outsourced Accounting team know if you need assistance with this element of your accounting or any of QuickBooks Online’s other tools.

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How QuickBooks Online tracks products and services

Read this if you are responsible for cybersecurity at your organization.

Cybersecurity threats aren’t just increasing in number—they’re also becoming more dangerous and expensive. Cyberattacks affect organizations around the globe, but the most expensive attacks occur in the US, where the average cost of a data breach is $9.44 million, according to IBM’s 2022 Cost of a Data Breach Report. The same report shows that the cost of a breach is $10.10 million in the healthcare industry, $5.97 million in the financial industry, $5.01 million in the pharmaceuticals industry, and $4.97 million in the technology industry.

Cyber threat actors are a serious danger to your company, and your customers, stakeholders, and shareholders know this. They expect you to be prepared to defend against and manage cybersecurity threats. How can you demonstrate your cybersecurity controls are up to par? By obtaining a SOC for cybersecurity report.

What is a SOC for cybersecurity report?

It provides an independent assessment of an organization’s cybersecurity risk management program. Specifically, it determines how effectively the organization’s internal controls monitor, prevent, and address cybersecurity threats.

What’s included in a SOC for cybersecurity report?

The report is made up of three key components:

  1. Management’s description of their cybersecurity risk management program, aligned with a control framework (more on that below) and 19 description criteria laid out by the AICPA.
  2. Management’s assertion that controls are effective to achieve cybersecurity objectives.
  3. Service auditor’s opinion on both management’s description and management’s assertion.

Why should you consider a SOC for cybersecurity report?

A SOC for cybersecurity report offers several important benefits for your organization, which include:

  • Align with evolving regulatory requirements. The cybersecurity regulatory environment is constantly evolving. In particular, the SEC’s cybersecurity guidelines are becoming stricter over time. A SOC for cybersecurity report can demonstrate you’re aligned with these guidelines. If you’re a public company or are considering going public in the future, you need to be prepared to meet not just the SEC’s guidelines of today, but their evolved guidelines in the future.
  • Keep your board of directors informed. Your board is responsible for ensuring the business is effectively addressing and mitigating risks—and that includes cyber risk. A SOC for cybersecurity report offers your board a clear and practical illustration of your organization’s cybersecurity risk management controls.
  • Attract and retain more customers. It’s becoming increasingly common for companies to require that their vendors have a SOC for cybersecurity report. Even for companies that don’t require such a report, it’s important to know their vendors are keeping their data safe. Having this report differentiates you from vendors who have not prepared one.
  • Improve your cybersecurity posture. A SOC for cybersecurity report can identify current gaps in your cybersecurity risk management program. Once you’ve addressed these gaps, you can show your customers, stakeholders, and shareholders that you’re continuously improving and evolving your cybersecurity risk management approach.

How do I prepare for my SOC for cybersecurity assessment?

There are several steps you should take to prepare for your assessment.

  1. Choose your control framework. You have several options, including the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, ISO 27002, and the Secure Controls Framework (SCF). There are multiple online resources to help you choose the framework that’s right for your organization.
  2. Determine who your key internal stakeholders are for your cybersecurity risk management program. You’ll need to select a point person to be responsible for ensuring the independent services auditor has all the documentation they need to complete their assessment and act as liaison across internal and external stakeholders.
  3. Collect all cybersecurity-related documentation in one location. Make sure you have an organizational system that makes sense to your point person so it’s easy for them to pull the appropriate materials to give to the independent services auditor.
  4. Conduct a readiness assessment. You can work with an independent services auditor to conduct such an assessment which will identify gaps you can address before performing the attestation.
  5. Select an independent services auditor to perform the attestation. SOC for cybersecurity services are provided by independent CPAs approved by the AICPA. Ideally, you’ll want to select a firm that is experienced in your industry, has a diverse and robust team of cybersecurity professionals, and is accessible when and where you need them.

As always, if you have questions about your specific situation or would like more information about SOC for cybersecurity services, please contact our IT security experts. We’re here to help.

Article
Yes, you need a SOC for cybersecurity report—here's why

Read this if you are at a state agency looking to implement or improve your 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 

Between 2015 and 2020, one in four fatal police shootings involved a person with a mental illness, and an estimated 44% of people incarcerated in jail and 37% of people incarcerated in prison had a mental health condition. In addition, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted the mental health situation in the country. 

Many people experiencing mental health distress call 911 because it is a widely known emergency number and easy to use. Recent data has shown that people using 911 to get help with serious mental illness do not get the right care at the right time and some even end up in law enforcement custody, rather than being seen by a mental health professional.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) is the new three-digit, nationwide phone number that is locally operated and offers 24/7 access via call, text, and chat to trained crisis counselors who can help individuals experiencing mental health-related distress. Mental health-related distress can include substance use crisis, suicidal thoughts, depression, or any emotional distress. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is also available for individuals worried about a loved one who might need crisis support services. Its goal is to provide accessible and immediate crisis intervention and support to every individual in need. 

988 state implementation and top challenges

As of August 2022, 23 states have passed legislation to facilitate the implementation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Colorado, Nevada, and Washington enacted legislation with user fees to support 988 operations and provide financial sustainability for the system. Several states have established advisory groups or planning committees with representatives from state agencies, health providers, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and other partners to better coordinate the system and identify policy levers. 

Implementing a three-digit number for behavioral health emergencies in every state and providing 24/7 primary coverage through in-state call centers have presented certain challenges to states across the nation. As states prepare to launch the 988 hotlines, they have encountered key issues around infrastructure, workforce, 911 integration, readiness of the crisis care continuum, cultural competence, and performance management.  

Solutions for state agencies

To address these key issues, states should consider the following to aid in the successful implementation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline:

Assess the states’ needs to successfully implement the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Despite meeting baseline requirements for the implementation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, state agencies are struggling to implement the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 

By performing a structured needs assessment, state agencies can evaluate their infrastructure, policies and procedures, funding, and workforce needs to better understand their readiness to implement and capability to sustain the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. This assessment provides insight for state agencies to understand their strengths, challenges, and areas of opportunity, and it should evaluate: 

  • State infrastructure
    Behavioral health leaders acknowledge that infrastructure supports are necessary to make the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline work across the continuum of care. It is important to assess the infrastructure across the crisis care continuum to help ensure a smooth transition for individuals who need care quickly. Successful implementation should take certain considerations into account during the planning process, such as including all the interested parties representing diverse populations.
  • Workforce
    In the current labor market, workforce availability and retention are top concerns for sustainable and effective 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline operations. States are struggling to hire the extra staff needed to launch the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline as well as to recruit qualified persons. To realistically implement the system, innovative workforce development and supporting wages to recruit and retain a specialized workforce are critical considerations for the states. Critical components to include in the assessment should include, but are not limited to:
    • Training
      Staff training and proper supervision will be crucial to effectively manage the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, and states need best practices models for how to best train crisis responders and the call center staff. States should assess the existing training infrastructure to identify ways early on to support the mental health of their 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline counselors to reduce the risk for burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder. 
    • Capacity
      Adequate capacity is a key factor to workforce. The assessment should identify the number of qualified workforce available for in-person staffing. In the current labor market, it will also be important to consider including the identification of the number of qualified staff able to work remotely. If states would like to consider remote capabilities for the call centers, it will also be important to assess the available technology necessary, as well as the development of standards and expectations, including strong communication. 
  • Readiness of the crisis care continuum
    Apprehension about the readiness of the crisis care continuum (e.g., mobile crisis teams through diversion services and lower levels of care) exist. Federal officials have stated they expect up to 12 million calls/texts/chats in the first year of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, and research suggests approximately 20% of those calls/texts/chats will require some level of in-person response. States are questioning whether mobile crisis teams are prepared for the increased demand while also identifying connections and access to upstream services. In addition, states can consider the needs and experiences of the system’s end users to help address equity. The assessment can help to assess the readiness of the various components across the crisis care continuum.

Establish a strategic plan of action to implement the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 

With the implementation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, state agencies have an opportunity to strengthen crisis care. The best way to begin strengthening crisis care is to develop and implement strategic plans that optimize the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and the following services. Building on the strengths and opportunities identified in the needs assessment and the associated recommendations, strategic plans can establish priorities and identify sustainable solutions that build capacity, promote equitable access to care, and promote continuous quality improvement. Collaborating with key stakeholders to develop a strategic plan can help identify a roadmap for how the state should approach the implementation, maintenance, and sustainability of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, including, but not limited to, the following areas:

  • Data and performance management
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Health equity
  • Voice of the customer
  • Financial sustainability

Maximize available funding streams

Historically, behavioral health has not had sufficient funding to adequately address mental health and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services across the continuum of care. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated behavioral health challenges for many individuals struggling and highlighted the challenges with the infrastructure and workforce. In the last couple of years, the federal administration has continued to allocate additional funding to supplement existing and ongoing federal funding. States should begin by evaluating the existing federal funding opportunities to support the implementation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 988 Convening Playbook for States, Territories, and Tribes, below are a few examples of funding sources that can be leveraged for the implementation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 

  • SAMHSA 
    • Transformation Transfer Initiative
    • Community Mental Health Services Block Grant
    • Substance Abuse and Treatment Block Grant
    • Mental Health Block Grant Set-aside
    • State Opioid Response Grant
    • Tribal Opioid Response Grants
  • American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021—for Mobile Crisis and Crisis Line Services
  • Medicaid
    • Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (known as EPSDT)
    • 1915(a) waivers
    • 1915(b) waivers
    • 1115 SMI/SED Service Delivery Waiver

The implementation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is critical to supporting the community and meeting their needs at a time where they need community support the most. If you have any questions, please contact BerryDunn’s behavioral health consulting team. We’re here to help.

Article
Components of successful implementation of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Read this if you are at a state Medicaid agency.

The uncertainty surrounding the end date of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) has made it difficult for state Medicaid agencies to plan and prepare to transition to pre-pandemic operations. Upon the federal declaration of the PHE, states and territories were forced to react quickly to reduce the impact on the Medicaid program and its enrollees. Many states and territories took advantage of the emergency authorities through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement temporary policy changes such as the removal of prior authorization requirements, increased payments to providers, removal of cost-sharing, and the expansion of telehealth services. 

While many of the emergency authorities will terminate on or around the end of the PHE, states and territories may elect to make those temporary changes permanent due to the positive impact for both enrollees and providers. Take telehealth, for example. The broad flexibilities allowed during the PHE permitted providers to meet the healthcare needs of enrollees in a time where in-person visits were not recommended, nor available. To increase access to testing and vaccinations in pharmacies, pharmacy technicians and interns were permitted to administer COVID-19 vaccinations when supervised by an immunizing pharmacist.

So what comes next for states and territories once the PHE ends? Taking a proactive approach to plan out next steps will assist states and territories to be better prepared upon conclusion of the PHE. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has committed to providing at least a 60-day notice prior to the official end date of the PHE. CMS encourages states and territories to communicate changes to enrollees, managed care plans, counties, providers, and other stakeholders.

As we await the declared end date of the PHE or notification of another extension, states and territories can begin taking actions to prepare for the resumption of normal operations. We have learned new ways to prevent disruptions in meeting the needs of enrollees, developed enhanced methods of communication to stay in touch, and used technology to its fullest capacity. While our new normal is very different than pre-pandemic times, we can all use what we have learned to strengthen our tactics for any future PHEs. BerryDunn is here to assist and support states and territories as they prepare for the eventual end of the PHE.

If you have questions or would like to discuss further, please contact the Medicaid consulting team. We're here to help. You can also read more BerryDunn articles on the PHE unwinding here.

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Looking beyond the Public Health Emergency: What's next for states

Read this if you are a Medicaid agency or attended MESC 2022.

As I depart Charlotte and fly home and MESC 2022 closes out, I understand why Charlotte is referenced as the Queen City. The people make it so, as we were welcomed with open arms in this beautiful place. Our appreciation and gratitude go out not only to Charlotte, but also to NESCSO for providing us with a place to meet, share ideas, get inspired, and deepen our relationships.

In the coming months, our team can sift through what we learned during our four days at MESC. It will be up to us to transform the ideas spawned from presentations and conversations into tangible action, and grow the new relationships we developed. Here are my key takeaways and themes from the conference that I will continue to ponder:

  • The conference is in full swing on the other side of the pandemic. MESC was sold out, as 1,700 people attended.
    • MESC established a new annual award for collaboration. This year the award went to the Public Sector Technology Group's (PSTG) Medicaid Information Technology Architecture (MITA) workgroup. CMS is optimistic that the MITA workgroup's efforts will help improve Medicaid and that the resulting toolkit will be the future of MITA. Thank you to this group, and congratulations on a well-deserved award!
  • Modernization efforts:
    • The reality of managing modernization efforts is settling in. States and territories are beginning to get clear on their approach, acknowledging that each has unique needs, and consequently, can customize their approach. It will be a long haul requiring good upfront strategizing, planning and execution.
    • Many states and territories recognize a need to examine and adjust their internal structures to manage multiple procurements and strategies.
    • Data and data governance is foundational to the modularization and modernization effort.
  • Unwinding is weighing on everyone's mind, but participants discussed other forward-looking topics. 
  • CMS continues to solicit input from states, territories, and vendors
    • This was CMS' first in-person conference since the pandemic's start—it was so great to have their energy and participation.
    • It was fantastic to be in sessions where CMS asked: How can they do better? 
    • Efforts on outcomes, streamlining certification, consistency, and accountability continue to be CMS themes
    • Brent Weaver, CMS' new Data and Systems Group Director, outlined four of CMS' goals at MESC:
      • Strengthen state and territory partnerships
      • Get input from vendors on unwinding
      • Identify ways to improve data quality
      • Find ways that will help CMS become better partners
  • Ensuring health equity and leveraging social determinants for health is a priority for states and territories.
  • New solution vendors are coming into the Medicaid space, and want to learn about Medicaid and the broader enterprise as they look for ways to adapt their systems.  
  • There continues to be mergers and re-shuffling of the more established vendors as they look to adapt to and serve the needs in the Medicaid space.
    • This was BerryDunn's 17th conference. We have broadened our services and maintained our values. I'm grateful that BerryDunn continues to have a stable presence at the conference.  
  • Our Medicaid Practice Group mission statement (see below) aligns with the CMS Data and Systems Group Director's reason for being in his role. 

Additional thoughts: Asking "why," change, and education

I also appreciated conversations within our Medicaid community based on the “why": Why are we doing what we do? Why focus on modernization? Health equity? Social determinants of health? 
The "why" drives what we do by providing us with our North Star, helping us with strategy, and giving us our roadmaps for proceeding. By starting with the purpose and outcome we strive for, we can align the changes we need to make.  

Change can be a source of fear, and there is a risk of venturing into the unknown. Medicaid leaders understand that the work they are responsible for is critical to their members, providers, and taxpayers. Lives depend upon our work, and the potential of "change" can have positive or negative consequences. Effective planning can mitigate the risks and help alleviate staff, member, and provider fears about change. 

Education also plays a big part in the mitigation equation. After tying the purpose to the vision, roadmap, and phased plans to modernize our programs, there needs to be an education plan to bring everyone up to speed and build confidence in those who will be impacted.

Conclusion

I am grateful that the BerryDunn Medicaid Practice Group's mission complements the goals of CMS and the direction in which states and territories are moving. We are honored to participate in this vital work and join all in the Medicaid community as we work on the initiatives before us. I leave you with our mission statement and invite you to share your organization's mission with us.

BerryDunn's Medicaid Practice Group helps Medicaid agencies improve the health and lives of individuals by empowering, inspiring, and partnering with our clients—we innovate, share deep expertise, and provide an independent perspective to resolve challenges. We are the success partner for Medicaid agencies, building healthier communities and stronger futures.

I look forward to seeing you all again next time in Denver! Let's make it a great year!

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MESC 2022: Reflections from 30,000 feet

Read this if you are at a state Medicaid agency.

The COVID-19 PHE has raised many questions for Medicaid programs across the country. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and other healthcare organizations have been providing guidance on how to best manage the PHE since it began. In particular, CMS has provided recommendations on how Medicaid programs can implement new processes and rules into their Medicaid Enterprise Systems (MES) for individuals to remain under continuous enrollment until the end of the PHE. 

Strategies for MES

BerryDunn has been working with many states and territories to develop strategic plans to comply with specific rules and requirements throughout the PHE. Some of these strategies involve changes to the original designs of the MES. Examples include:

  • Updating system rules to maintain individuals enrolled in continuous coverage throughout the PHE
  • Retesting system rules to confirm systems are working properly once PHE rules are removed
  • Revamping system notifications so reminders keep individuals informed about ongoing changes
  • Training staff on the new system updates so they can manage calls and orient individuals on changes regarding their eligibility

CMS continues to release updated guidance on how Medicaid programs can best prepare for the end of the PHE in order to resume normal operations. These recommendations indicate that Medicaid programs adopt strategies to maintain coverage of eligible individuals as the continuous enrollment requirements come to an end, following the conclusion of the PHE, while allowing coverage for ineligible individuals to terminate. Medicaid programs must ensure their systems are prepared for the transition, but some of these updates and changes to the systems may pose greater challenges: 

  • Since there are no precedents to compare with the current PHE unwinding event, Medicaid programs will need to execute changes within a limited timeline and work with the issues that may arise as they execute unwinding
  • For some Medicaid programs, system rules, both current and updated ones, are not able to run simultaneously
  • Medicaid programs may need to hire additional staff, train new employees, and retrain or cross train current employees within a small window of time
  • Medicaid programs will need to perform additional MES testing to confirm those systems are working as required
  • Medicaid programs will incur additional costs to cover additional operational efforts
  • System vendors will incur extra work that may affect project timelines and other priorities

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about how BerryDunn can assist you with the PHE unwinding efforts, please contact the Medicaid consulting team.

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Design, Development, and Implementation (DDI) and project impacts resulting from the Public Health Emergency (PHE)

Read this if you work for a not-for-profit organization. 

Our annual not-for-profit Recharge event provides attendees with an opportunity to hear about hot button issues in the not-for-profit industry. We polled registrants from across the country to see where they are focusing their attention in the current landscape. 

Employee retention

Overwhelmingly, employee retention is a number one concern for organizations, with 78% of respondents saying they were strongly focused on it in 2022. Not surprisingly, financial stability (67%), cybersecurity (50%) and concerns about access to government funding (43%) were of common concern among respondents.


 
Remarkably, employee retention in 2022 weighed more heavily on respondents than concerns around the remote workplace in 2021. While over 57% of respondents were concerned about the remote workforce in 2021, employee retention did not even make it into the top four concerns for organizations. This shift is consistent with what we are seeing in our client base, as organizations embraced hybrid and remote working arrangements and are well into codification of and adherence to the policies in place. Organizations reported taking significant efforts toward employee retention, most commonly looking at increasing salaries and allowing hybrid and flexible work arrangements as methods to help retain employees.

Financial stability

The concern around financial stability is slowly starting to decline. While financial stability was a top concern for 83% of organizations in 2021, that percentage dropped to 67% of respondents listing it as a top concern in 2022, While multiple factors certainly contribute to these results (availability of COVID relief funds, for example), the decline is significant, especially in this time of inflationary growth and demands on the labor market. This decline may be reflective of the continued transition away from short-term emergency response and toward a more future-oriented mindset. 

Other concerns

Both cybersecurity and government funding concerns held relatively steady in 2022 compared to 2021, with 45% of respondents concerned with cybersecurity and government funding in 2021, compared to 50% and 43% in 2022, respectively. 

Participants also reflected on the perceived top concerns for their board members, with employee retention and recruitment and overall financial stability leading in top importance. These mirrored concerns are of no surprise, but speak to the continued need for regular and reliable reporting to boards to allow for continued rapid response by those charged with governance.

If you have any questions about your specific concerns or situation, please don’t hesitate to contact our not-for-profit team. We’re here to help.

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Employee retention and other concerns: NFP outlook for the year ahead