Telemedicine Benefits Extended; No Nursing Home Visits Yet 

by | Jun 4, 2020

Above: Dr. James McDonald of the Dept. of Health at Thursday’s press conference, He talked about how the virus has shown us how interdependent we all are. 

By Hope McKinney

There were 100 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, for a total of 15,325, and there were 14 new deaths, bringing the death toll to 756 people. The number of people in the hospital with the virus continues to hold steady at 185. The number of confirmed cases in East Greenwich – 70 – has not been updated since last Friday. Find all the latest data on the DOH data dashboard HERE.

At Gov. Gina Raimondo’s press conference Thursday afternoon, she announced different investments in areas of the healthcare system as a way to clear out inequities. 

“We need to rebuild in a way that makes our community, our economy and our healthcare system stronger and more resilient and more effective than it was when we started,” she said. 

For a long-term plan, Raimondo will be signing an executive order later today, to address the economic impacts of COVID on the healthcare system. The Rhode Island Foundation has committed $1 million in support of this order, which will be used for ongoing investments to root out health care disparities and support preventative health. 

For tackling these issues on a more immediate basis, Raimondo said her administration launched a hospital relief fund last week which has committed to investing up to $150 million of the state’s emergency COVID relief funds to help hospitals offset immediate costs and to prepare for the future. 

“There will be more to come,” she said. “This is the first immediate funding to help them keep financially secure and safe.” 

She also announced a new pediatric advisory council led by the director of the state Department of Health, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. They will be using the emergency COVID relief funds, as well, to distribute millions of dollars in relief and support to pediatric practices. She noted that these practices had struggled with telemedicine as it’s more difficult with children versus adults and she said she wanted to give them needed relief.  

 Raimondo brought up her concern with the steep drop in child immunizations throughout the crisis and strongly encouraged every Rhode Islander to call and reschedule any health appointments that have been delayed. 

“If we don’t fix that now, next winter that’s gonna result in potentially devastating healthcare issues,” she said. 

On a positive note, Dr. Jim McDonald, DOH’s chief administrative officer, emphasized the importance of embracing the interdependence this pandemic has forced us to rely on. 

“We can look at this virus several ways,” he said. “It is a thief. It has stolen so much joy from us, but with this pandemic, we can take a moment to look at what’s going on around us. I am desperately interdependent on everybody in my culture. I need all of you.” 

Raimondo also extended the executive order to direct health insurers to cover telemedicine for primary care, specialty care, and mental and behavioral health care conducted over the phone or video conference until July 5. They have required that reimbursement rates for telehealth be equivalent to in-person visits. She said she wants to work to make telehealth permanent within the state. 

Gov. Gina Raimondo Thursday. Pool photo: Kris Craig / The Providence Journal 

Raimondo also announced an extension of increased wages for the lowest paid frontline nursing home workers, through June 15. According to Brett Smiley, director of the department of administration, they are budgeting up to $5 million for these final two weeks of this initiative. 

McDonald said those eager to visit loved ones in nursing homes needed to wait a little longer. 

“If we could just hold on for a couple more weeks, my friends, I think we’ll be in a much better place,” he said. Rhode Island nursing homes have borne the brunt of deaths from COVID-19. 

With regard to the recent destruction, Raimondo also said the National Guard will continue to be deployed in the state until she feels it’s safe.

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