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State Regulatory Waivers That Helped Hospitals, Health Care Providers During Pandemic Set To Expire

Jae C. Hong

On today’s program: We hear how waivers that provided more flexibility and eased administrative burdens helped medical facilities face the pandemic, but they’re set to expire later this month; an obstetrician-gynecologist explains why a new bereavement leave policy for city employees will help those facing pregnancy loss; and a conversation about the increasing mental health needs of children and teenagers in the pandemic. 

Medical waivers that lowered administrative barriers for health care workers set to expire
(0:00 - 8:14)

Last year in the early weeks and months of the pandemic, hospitals and health care providers were swamped with patients who contracted COVID-19. Gov. Tom Wolf approved waivers to keep medical workers on the job and help bring in others, but those waivers are set to expire on Sept. 30.

“They were supposed to give a little bit of flexibility to people … [whose] jobs were upended or they were on the frontlines of fighting COVID,” says Danielle Ohl, a reporter with Spotlight PA.

One example of how these waivers worked is nurses or doctors with lapsed licenses could return to work in facilities, removing some administrative barriers.

Nearly 100 such waivers were implemented, however, Ohl says there isn’t good data on how many people used them.

Should the waivers not be extended, Ohl says boards that govern professions with waivers will be overwhelmed.

“In the most dire case, a nurse could be pulled off the floor because their paperwork didn’t go through or it expired,” says Ohl. “There is just a fear that the administrative burden isn’t going to be dealt with and they don’t really know what that means, and they don’t want to take a chance in breaking the law.”

Ohl says the legislature could extend the waivers, but it’s unclear if that will happen while the legislature is currently out of session.

Pregnancy loss can be isolating, city bereavement measure is a step in the right direction says local OB-GYN
(8:17 - 17:29)

Pittsburgh City Council approved legislation that would allow city workers three days off, with pay, after experiencing pregnancy loss due to miscarriage, in vitro failure, termination, or more causes.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Councilor Bobby Wilson, this is the first such leave passed by a city. A bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would grant such paid leave nationwide, but other countries have already passed similar legislation.

Dr. Grace Ferguson, an obstetrician-gynecologist, says such a loss can feel isolating for people.

“We don’t talk about it, I think because it makes us sad and it makes us worry about the pregnancies we see around us every day,” says Ferguson.

Ferguson says the approved bill for City of Pittsburgh employees is a step in a direction to better acknowledge the issue: “All acknowledgment that we are pregnant, that we birth, that we have loss, that everybody deserves time to grieve and excellent medical care, it’s all very intersectional.”

With her own patients, Ferguson says she will share her own story of loss. She also points to the Pittsburgh Bereavement Doulas as a source of support for many. Ferguson serves on the nonprofit's board.

“Pittsburgh Bereavement Doulas hold your hand, help you make your choices, and kind of just guide you, what to expect, offer you support,” says Ferguson. That includes logistical and emotional support, helping with decisions like how to call a funeral home.

“Hopefully we will reach a stage where it’s just as common to talk about your pregnancy loss on social media as it is to talk about your pregnancy announcement.”

More kids are seeking mental health treatment since the start of the pandemic
(17:31 - 22:30)

As a result of the pandemic, many kids have needed mental health treatment. UPMC reports that the number of pediatric patients seeking this care is up 30% since the spring of 2020.

Dr. Abigail Schlesinger is a UPMC pediatric psychiatrist: her clients range from toddlers to college students. For our series on mental health during the pandemic, Schlesinger tells 90.5 WESA’s Sarah Boden that kids have been impacted in different ways.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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