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POLITICO New York Health Care: Rural hospitals get creative for survival -- Court OKs NYC flu vaccine mandate -- Justice Center authority upheld

By Nick Niedzwiadek | 06/29/2018 10:05 AM EDT

RURAL HOSPITALS — Faced with an existential threat in the form of a declining and increasingly older population, smaller rural hospitals are looking across state lines to band together in order to survive. Over the past year, New York hospitals along the borders with Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Vermont have taken steps to increase ties with their neighboring counterparts. That means juggling two sets of state Medicaid programs, regulations and insurance laws on top of typical hospital partnership concerns like aligning IT systems, but hospital administrators say it is essential to their survival, and it's a trend likely to become more common in the coming years. Nationally, 85 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and while New York has avoided such closures, in 2014 Pennsylvania and Massachusetts both saw hospitals shutter that were a short drive from New York, according to data tracked by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The changes range from being abosrbed into a larger system like the UVM Health Network to an out-and-out cross-border merger like Pennsylvania's Bradford Regional Medical Center coming under Olean General Hospital. Nick has more here.

— ON THAT NOTE: Buffalo Business First profiles how Eastern Niagara Hospital was able to stay afloat by joining the Kaleida Health system and receiving state operation and capital subsidies. Read more here.

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NOW WE KNOW — The latest round of tests by federal scientists found antibiotic-resistant bacteria on nearly 80 percent of supermarket meat in 2015, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Working Group.

FLU MANDATE — New York City's health department can require children to receive a flu shot before attending a city-licensed preschool or day care center, the state's high court ruled unanimously Thursday. The Board of Health had sought to mandate that children between the ages of six months and 59 months receive the vaccination, but a state Supreme Court justice blocked it in December 2015. Justice Manuel Mendez wrote that the state Legislature had authority over mandated vaccinations, and a mid-level appellate court upheld that decision but on different grounds. The Court of Appeals reversed those rulings and stated that the city's Board of Health was "squarely within" its powers and there were no state laws that superseded it. Read more from Nick and Dan here.

JUSTICE CENTER — The state Court of Appeals ruled 6-1 on Thursday to uphold the Justice Center's ability to hold institutions accountable for abuse and neglect conducted by its employees in a case that could have severely restricted the nascent organization's jurisdiction. Read more here.

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DE BLASIO AND DC 37 — Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration has reached a tentative 44-month contract agreement with District Council 37, New York City's largest municipal public employee union, the city and the union announced this week.

... The tentative agreement with DC 37, which represents nearly 100,000 municipal employees — roughly 25 percent of New York City's workforce — is retroactive, starting on Sept. 26, 2017, and expiring on May 25, 2021. It includes wage increases of 2 percent beginning on Sept. 26, 2017; 2.25 percent starting on Sept. 26 and 3 percent starting on Oct. 26, 2019. More from POLITICO's Madina Touré.

SUNY UPSTATE — The Syracuse-Post Standard has a damning story about how SUNY Upstate Medical University paid more than $660,000 for its former head to sit around in an office and do little of substance — in essence disappearing him under the guise of a "consultant" gig. Read more here.

SMOKING CASUALTY — A nursing home resident in Buffalo was in critical condition after the cigarette lit the resident was smoking in the courtyard set their clothes on fire. Read more here.

MAKING ROUNDS — The Albany Times Union reports: "A health care administrator who spent a dozen years with the Veterans Health Administration in Albany will return to the Capital Region as president of acute care for St. 's Health Partners. Michael Finegan will fill the new post, created by combining the positions of president, acute care Albany, and president, acute care Troy, into a single position."


ENEMY TURNED ALLY — From the AP: "One of the world's most dreaded viruses has been turned into a treatment to fight deadly brain tumors." Read more here.

BIG DEAL — Retailing behemoth Amazon is making its first foray into the pharmaceutical space with the purchase of online drug distributor PillPack. While PillPack is only a minor player — catering to individuals with chronic conditions requiring multiple prescription drugs — the announcement shook up the industry since Amazon has long been rumored to be eyeing the drug business. Details of the acquisition weren't released, but Bloomberg reported it is worth $1 billion.

— Stock prices for CVS Health and Walgreens plummeted on the news, with CVS's stock price finishing the day down more than 6 percent and Walgreens had a 9 percent drop.


CHRONIC ILLNESSES — The New York Times reports: "Congress and the Trump administration are revamping Medicare to provide extra benefits to people with multiple chronic illnesses, a significant departure from the program's traditional focus that aims to create a new model of care for millions of older Americans."

PUERTO RICO — A George Washington University professor and a group of researchers looked into the food aid being sent to Puerto Rico in the wake of last year's devastating hurricane. Over a 10-day period they found that 11 of more than 100 foodstuffs they monitored were candy or chips, and the fruit and veggies being sent were loaded with sugar and sodium, respectively. NPR has more here.

TAKE A PILL — CNN explores other options for diabetics beyond an injection: namely, a pill. Read more here.

DON'T DO THAT — The Justice Department announced criminal charges against 601 individuals, including 165 licensed medical professionals, for engaging in health care fraud that resulted in more than $2 billion in false billings. More than 1 in 4 of the targeted individuals were charged with crimes that involved prescribing and distributing opioids and other drugs. "Every dollar recovered in this year's operation represents not just a taxpayer's hard-earned money — it's a dollar that can go toward providing health care for Americans in need," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

PRE-EXISTING REEMERGES — From Kaiser Health News: "Republicans' latest attempt to chip away at the health law involves the administration backing away from defending the pre-existing conditions provision in court. If upheld, the effects could be more wide-ranging than some might expect. In other health law news, high deductibles mean some families are putting off getting care." Read more here.

GOLDWATER RULE — From STAT News: "Twenty-two psychiatrists and psychologists, including some of the field's most prominent thinkers, are calling on the American Psychiatric Association on Thursday to substantially revise its controversial Goldwater rule, which bars APA members from offering their views of a public figure's apparent psychological traits or mental status." Read more here.

TODAY'S TIP — Comes from Dr. Ishwaria Subbiah, who reminds researchers that many people fear being guinea pigs. "But with a clinical trial, you're not a test subject. You're a person going through cancer treatment. Everything we do is guided by you, your experience and how you're feeling."


STICK TOGETHER — Researchers at Northeastern have created a hydrogel that's 15 times stronger than other wound sealants on the market. Read the paper here

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