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Carrie Pitts, assistant principal of Robertson Elementary School, waves to a motorist Monday, May 3, 2021, as she is honored in a drive-through celebration at Sarg Hubbard Park in Yakima, Wash., after being awarded the Crystal Apple.

Supporters cheer for Colleen Kaluzny, counselor at Nob Hill Elementary School, right, Monday, May 3, 2021, as she is honored in a drive-through celebration at Sarg Hubbard Park in Yakima, Wash., after being awarded the Crystal Apple.

Governor signs bill to increase hospital transparency in Washington
  • Updated

The state’s hospitals will be required to be more transparent about their finances under a bill Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law on Monday.

Under House Bill 1272, hospitals will start reporting additional financial and patient demographic information to the state Department of Health, and submit other reports about charity care and emergency aid.

Supporters of the bill, including unions and patient advocates, say the legislation will give the public more information about how hospitals are spending their money and how that influences their decisions.

Patient advocates say more information is needed to determine whether grants and other funds are being used that positively impact patient outcomes and meet the state’s health care needs.

The bill passed both chambers primarily on party lines, with most Republicans voting against the bill, including those from the 13th, 14th and 15th districts in the Yakima Valley.

Yakima-area advocates voiced support for the bill, pointing to the financial troubles at Astria Health as a reason for more transparency. Astria closed Regional Medical Center in Yakima in 2020 after filing for bankruptcy protection in 2019.

Aspects of the new law will be implemented over the next two years.

The state Department of Health has until Jan. 1, 2023, to revise its annual financial reporting system so hospitals can submit additional expense and income information in their financial reports to the state agency.

Expense categories that will be added are blood supplies, contract staffing, information technology, insurance and professional liability, laundry services, professional services, purchased laboratory services, repairs and maintenance, shared services or system office allocation, staff recruitment, training costs, taxes, utilities and other noncategorized expenses.

New revenue categories are donations, grants, joint venture revenue, local taxes, outpatient pharmacy, parking, quality incentive payments, reference laboratories, rental income, retail cafeteria and other noncategorized revenues.

Once those categories are added, all hospitals will have to report expenses and revenue in these new categories. Hospitals that are a critical access facility, the only hospital in a community or are Medicare-dependent will only need to report information in the categories where there is a value of more than $1 million or the value in a given category represents at least 1% of the hospital’s total expenses or revenues.

The Department of Health will also develop guidance for hospitals on reporting funds from federal, state or local governments during a national or state-declared emergency after Jan. 1, 2020, including money received during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, on Jan. 1, 2023, hospitals will submit quarterly reports on submitted and completed charity care applications. The Department of Health will develop a form for hospitals to submit the information.

Hospitals will have until Jan. 1, 2023, to adjust their electronic health records so their patient discharge information will include more information. Certain small and rural hospitals will be able to apply for a waiver and/or receive a grant so their electronic health record systems meet the requirements.

Finally, the state Department of Health will work with the University of Washington’s School of Nursing on a study to analyze hospital staffing and its impact on patient mortality and outcomes. The study must be completed by Sept. 1, 2022. The Department of Health will then pass on the study to legislative committees by Oct. 1, 2022.

FDA expected to OK Pfizer vaccine for teens within week

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12 to 15 by next week, according to a federal official and a person familiar with the process, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.

The announcement is set to come a month after the company found that its shot, which is already authorized for ages 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger group.

The federal official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the FDA’s action, said the agency was expected to expand its emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine by early next week, and perhaps sooner. The person familiar with the process, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, confirmed the timeline and added that it is expected the FDA will approve Pfizer’s use by even younger children sometime this fall.

The FDA action will be followed by a meeting of a federal vaccine advisory committee to discuss whether to recommend the shot for 12- to 15-year-olds. Shots could begin after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adopts the committee’s recommendation. Those steps could be completed in a matter of days.

The New York Times first reported on the expected timing for the authorization.

Pfizer in late March released preliminary results from a vaccine study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, showing there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 18 among those given dummy shots.

Kids had side effects similar to young adults, the company said. The main side effects are pain, fever, chills and fatigue, particularly after the second dose. The study will continue to track participants for two years for more information about long-term protection and safety.

Pfizer isn’t the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Results also are expected by the middle of this year from a U.S. study of Moderna’s vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds.

But in a sign that the findings were promising, the FDA already allowed both companies to begin U.S. studies in children 11 and younger, working their way down to as young as 6 months old.

More than 131 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine have already been administered in the U.S., where demand for vaccines among adults has dramatically slowed in recent weeks.

While younger people are at dramatically lower risk of serious side effects from COVID-19, they have made up a larger share of new virus cases as a majority of U.S. adults have been at least partially vaccinated and as higher-risk activities like indoor dining and contact sports have resumed in most of the country. Officials hope that extending vaccinations to teens will further accelerate the nation’s reduced virus caseload and allow schools to reopen with minimal disruptions this fall.

The U.S. has ordered at least 300 million doses of the Pfizer shot by the end of July, enough to protect 150 million people.

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Washington state restaurant owners can apply for a piece of $28 billion federal fund
  • Updated

Calling all Washington restaurant owners who are working through pandemic-induced challenges: The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is open for applications. The program, which came into effect under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, sets aside $28 billion in funding to “help restaurants and other eligible businesses keep their doors open,” according to the U.S. Small Business Association. It began accepting applications Monday.

With Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman counties having rolled back to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s coronavirus reopening plan, and King County likely to follow this week, the introduction of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund is a ray of hope for Washington’s restaurant owners as COVID-19 numbers tick upward. Under Phase 2, indoor dining is again limited to 25% capacity — down from 50% in Phase 3.

The program is open to a wide gamut of businesses that fall under the “restaurant” umbrella — including distilleries, brewpubs, food carts, wineries and inns — and preference will be given to women, minority and veteran-owned businesses. Recipients will be eligible to receive funding equal to pandemic-related revenue loss, minus any grants received, of up to $10 million per business and $5 million per physical location.

Recipients don’t have to repay the funds if they are used in eligible ways by March 11, 2023. According to the Small Business Administration, restaurants can use the funds in multiple ways, including:

For business payroll costs

Payments on a business mortgage

Business debt service

Utility payments

Business maintenance expenses

Construction of outdoor seating

Business supplies

Food and beverage expenses

Supplier costs

Operating expenses

Applications will be time-stamped and processed on a “first come, first served” basis, said Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association.

“There’s only enough money to support one out of six restaurants (across the U.S.), and we really want to make sure every Washington restaurant gets in,” Anton said, stressing that Washington business owners should get their applications in as quickly as possible.

“This is a game changer as Congress has said they could fund (the program) further if there’s a demand. Even if you’re worried you might not get in, still get your application in so if they decide to fund further, you’re in line,” Anton said.

Applicants are directed to an SBA portal (restaurants.sba.gov) to apply. Anton says the Washington Hospitality Association is working with state agencies to assist applicants with everything from potential language barriers to internet access.

“We don’t want computer proficiency to be the reason you don’t stay in business,” Anton says.

The Washington Hospitality Association has an online tool kit available with additional resources at hub.wahospitality.org.

State events can increase capacity with vaccinated sections
  • Updated

OLYMPIA — More people will be allowed at indoor and outdoor spectator events and indoor religious services if there are designated COVID-19 vaccination sections, under new guidance issued by Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday.

The change, which takes effect immediately, affects capacity at sporting events, graduations and other events for counties in the second and third phases of the state’s economic reopening plan. A vaccination card or other documentation that proves vaccination status will be needed for access to vaccination sections.

While previously there were only limited circumstances where spectator events were allowed to reach 50% capacity, under the new guidance, outdoor facilities may add vaccinated sections until their total capacity — including vaccinated and unvaccinated sections — is at 50% or 22,000 people, whichever is lower. There can be no more than 9,000 unvaccinated people at the outdoor events.

For indoor facilities, vaccinated sections can also be added until their total capacity is a maximum of 50%, though the maximum number must not exceed 2,000 people, and the number of indoor unvaccinated spectators varies depending on the size of the room and what phase of the state’s economic opening plan a county is in.

Religious and faith-based organizations in Phase 2 counties are allowed to increase overall facility capacity to 50% if they add vaccinated-only sections.

Children ages 2 to 15 are allowed in vaccination sections if there is proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours. Children younger than age 2 do not need a COVID test in order to be admitted to a vaccinated section with a vaccinated adult.

The guidance comes a day ahead of a decision on how many more counties may have to roll back to more restrictions on things like capacity on indoor dining and gyms. Currently, just four of the state’s 39 counties are in the more restrictive Phase 2, but several counties are expected to roll back from Phase 3 this week due to an increase in cases and hospitalizations.