The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) two Beneficiary and Family Centered Care-Quality Improvement Organizations (BFCC-QIOs) are known for empowering beneficiaries to exercise their right to quality health care; however, the BFCC-QIOs’ responsiveness and person-centered care skills were put to the ultimate test in 2017 when three back-to-back extreme weather events caused turmoil for beneficiaries in several U.S. states and territories.
As Hurricane Harvey approached the Gulf Coast in late August, KEPRO—the BFCC-QIO representing 34 states, including Texas and Florida—tracked weather developments and preemptively sent its outreach team to communities in the hurricane’s path to make sure beneficiaries could find local resources.
In their work with stakeholders, KEPRO listed resources on their website that would be helpful before, during and after the storm for the Medicare beneficiaries. Outreach staff partnered with two Area Agencies on Aging to be onsite at their offices following the storm to respond to questions.
Not long thereafter, Hurricane Irma began churning toward Florida. This new hurricane presented a different set of problems for residents; while Harvey had produced mass flooding in low-lying areas near Houston, Irma caused long power outages, disrupting the lives of patients in hospitals, as well as nursing home residents.
In one case, KEPRO was instrumental in helping someone find a missing family member. That beneficiary had been a resident of the Florida nursing home where 14 deaths occurred due to power outages. In addition, efforts to reach a nursing home were unsuccessful to discuss a review, so KEPRO contacted local authorities and the fire department to ensure the facility was open and operating safely.
“The whole event was eye-opening. It changed the way in which we communicate. Now we have a much more consistent dialogue with beneficiaries, families and partners in those regions.”
Meanwhile, in mid-September, Livanta—the BFCC-QIO representing 19 states and territories—faced a whole different set of obstacles during Hurricane Maria, which ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Although neither island was easily accessible, Livanta made sure that beneficiaries knew where to turn if they needed help.
“It was difficult communicating,” said Thomas Bond, task manager with Livanta. “The grid was completely blown out. We’d never seen anything like it.”
Livanta had begun its community outreach prior to Irma hitting the islands. The BFCC-QIO contacted the Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organizations in both Puerto Rico and the USVI to obtain feedback on the level of care being administered on the islands. Livanta also sent posters to health care facilities containing helpful information, including phone numbers that residents could call for assistance.
Many of the calls Livanta fielded in the weeks during and after Irma were from individuals seeking basic necessities like food and water, or numbers for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) resources. The BFCC-QIO’s bilingual call center staff members worked hard to make sure that non-English speakers received the same level of care as others did.
“The whole event was eye-opening,” Bond said. “It changed the way in which we communicate. Now we have a much more consistent dialogue with beneficiaries, families and partners in those regions.”
KEPRO and Livanta’s biggest roles were in assisting the CMS regional offices in communicating information to beneficiaries, especially as the hurricanes receded and patients were left wondering if and when they would be discharged from health care facilities. The BFCC-QIOs helped not only with disseminating information but assisting in the effort to make sure that beneficiaries were discharged properly and in a timely manner.
“The most important thing for us is to stand with our partners. If there is a question, we are there to provide answers,” said Scott Fortin, KEPRO’s senior communications director. “Beneficiaries and their families appreciate it when you stand with them. That goes a long way toward cementing strong relationships with them.”