Callaghan O’Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images
You never know where an act of kindness ends.
Tara Berliski of Magnolia, Texas, offered to donate a kidney to her husband, John Berliski. His were removed in July because of polycystic kidney disease. Doctors at the Houston Methodist Hospital living donor program explained that because John Berliski has type AB blood, he could receive a kidney from almost any donor. But if John and Tara Berliski chose to enter a kidney swap program, they might be able to help someone else, too; someone else might help them.
John Berliski told the doctors, “Yes, I’ll go ahead and help whomever.” It set off an extraordinary chain of events, as reported in the Houston Chronicle.
Justin Barrow, a 40-year-old youth pastor in Longville, La., has a rare kidney disorder, and had a transplant when he was 15; it was beginning to falter. A cousin offered to donate their kidney, but doctors said it wasn’t a good match. A kidney from Tara Berliski would be.
Diane Poenitzch of Garland, Texas, had been on the list to receive a transplant for nearly four years. Her sister, Paula Gerrick, had offered to be a donor, but her blood type is AB. Not a good match for her sister, but potentially for John Berliski.
The National Kidney Foundation says more than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney. Yet only about 20,000 receive a transplant each year. A patient on that list will wait an average of three to five years before they become one of the fortunate ones to receive a transplant. Many—there is no nice way to say this—die waiting.
But on October 20, a 30-hour series of operations began at Houston Methodist, involving more than 80 doctors, nurses, and technicians.
Justin Barrow’s cousin, Samantha Barrow, donated a kidney to Misael Gonzalez, whose mother, Teresa Salcedo, donated a kidney to Debra Lewing, whose supervisor, Dawn Thomas, donated a kidney to Diane Poenitzsch, whose sister, Paula Gerrick, has AB blood type, and donated a kidney to John Berliski.
Dr. Osama Gaber was the lead surgeon. When his young daughter, Nora, died in 1998, his family donated her organs for transplant. Years later, they founded Nora’s Home, where organ transplant patients and their families can stay before and after surgeries.
The 10 donors and recipients are all recovering, doing well and began to meet one another this week. They are former strangers, now bound for life by blood and kindness.
“You know you are saving loved ones,” Tara Berliski told us from Magnolia, Texas. “And that’s everything.”
Several hospitals and healthcare systems have “returned” CARES Act funding, according to reports and a federal database, though it’s not clear whether those funds were repaid or given back without being spent.
An analysis by MedPage Today also revealed discrepancies in public statements and reported distributions by some of the nations’ top healthcare systems.
HCA Healthcare, the for-profit hospital system based in Nashville, Tenn., said in a press release earlier this month that it would “return, or repay early,” its entire $1.6 billion in CARES Act distributions along with $4.4 billion in Medicare accelerated payments. Leadership determined the company didn’t need the money after netting a $1.1 billion profit for the second quarter, according to the press release.
But HCA’s COVID Stimulus Watch page, produced by watchdog Good Jobs First, indicates the company actually received $1.57 billion from general distributions — loans that are often tied to Medicare accelerated payments — plus $487 million in targeted grants.
That $2.1 billion total, derived from multiple data sources including Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data, is well short of the $6 billion HCA noted in its press release.
In addition, the HHS database has recorded only about $141.5 million accepted by HCA entities via general CARES Act distributions, as of Tuesday. An an HHS spokesperson said its dataset “only includes payment amounts formally accepted by providers.”
Researchers at Good Jobs First told MedPage Today that what public companies report publicly regarding CARES Act funds sometimes does not match HHS data. That has been the case with Tenet Healthcare and HCA, researcher director Philip Mattera said.
“HCA was not very clear in that announcement [the news release] about what exactly they are giving back or returning,” Mattera said.
An HCA spokesperson said he was unfamiliar with the COVID Stimulus Watch database and declined further comment for this story, repeatedly pointing to the news release to answer questions.
The American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals also declined to comment for this story.
The Provider Relief Fund, established under the CARES Act, involves both general distribution loans (which often include Medicare advance payments) and targeted grants for medical centers deemed to be most needy. But some Medicare funds are included in both categories and general distribution figures keep changing because they are based in part on providers completing forms, Mattera said.
“All of this makes it tough to pin down exact numbers,” Mattera said.
Similar discrepancies were seen with Kaiser Permanente. The health system said it declined most of the more than $500 million it was eligible to receive, according to a spokesperson and a news release. Both sources noted Kaiser Permanente “declined all of [the money] except for $11.8 million for Maui Health System, a nonprofit subsidiary of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals.”
But Maui Health System actually received $17.2 million, according to the HHS general distribution database.
“Bottom line: we did not accept or keep any of [the $500 million-plus] except the money for Maui Health System,” the Kaiser Permanente
Nation’s Largest Suicide Prevention Organization Celebrates National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (S.2661) Becoming Law
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2020
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — On Saturday, October 17, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (S.2661), legislation that will support the implementation of the future 9-8-8 crisis hotline, was signed into law. Robert Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, released the following statement:
“In July, the Federal Communications Commission announced that 9-8-8 would be the new universal hotline number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 2022. This easy-to-remember number will increase public access to mental health and suicide prevention crisis resources, encourage help-seeking for individuals in need, and is a crucial entry point for establishing a continuum of crisis care.
“This is why AFSP applauds the U.S. Congress for prioritizing suicide prevention through unanimous passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. This historic legislation, now law, will bring our mental health crisis response system into the 21st century. We are encouraged by the federal government’s dedication to preventing this leading cause of death and showing all Americans that mental health is just as important as physical health.
“It should be noted however that the United States’ mental health crisis response system is woefully underfunded and undervalued. It is crucial that local crisis call centers are adequately equipped to respond to what we expect will be an increased call volume and provide effective crisis services to those in need when 9-8-8 is made available in July 2022.
“We would like to especially thank the legislation’s sponsors in the U.S. Senate, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed (D-RI), and the U.S. House, Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Greg Gianforte (R-MT), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), as well as their staff. We would also like to thank the Committee members, Congressional leadership, and staff who have supported these efforts on Capitol Hill.
“AFSP’s nearly 30,000 volunteer Field Advocates engaged their members of Congress for years in support of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. They made their voices heard through thousands of letters, phone calls, and emails. They have pushed the suicide prevention movement forward, and their efforts will save lives.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 9-8-8 number will be active nationwide by July 2022. Until that point, those in crisis should continue to call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For guidelines on how to report safely on suicide: https://afsp.org/for-journalists/.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that’s smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, and with a public policy office in Washington, D.C.
Affordable Care Act: Trump keeps chipping away at Obamacare with only weeks until the election — and a Supreme Court hearing
The administration this week approved Georgia’s waiver request to provide Medicaid coverage to certain low-income residents if they work or participate in other qualifying activities for at least 80 hours a month. It’s the latest state to receive permission to require work as a condition of coverage, though implementation elsewhere has been halted by federal courts or state officials.
The Peach State, which has the nation’s third highest uninsured rate at 13.4%, is the first to seek this enhanced power to reshape its individual market.
Georgia and federal officials say that these efforts will make coverage more available and affordable to residents, but consumer advocates say they are the latest attempts to undercut the law.
“It’s a road map of what they would allow were the ACA to be struck down and were they to win election again,” said Judy Solomon, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
What Georgia wants to do
Georgia is not looking to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The waiver only applies to those earning up to