Nursing Homes May Face Steeper Safety Fines

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As the Delta variant raises fresh concerns about the safety of the nation’s nursing homes, the Biden administration has quietly reversed a controversial Trump policy that had limited the fines levied on facilities that endangered or injured residents.

Deaths in nursing homes, which peaked at the end of last year, have plummeted since the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccines. They account for nearly a third of the U.S. pandemic’s overall death toll.

But inadequate staffing, protective equipment shortages poor infection control remain concerns at the nation’s 14,000 skilled nursing facilities, advocates some officials say.

And although 81 percent of nursing home residents are vaccinated, only 58 percent of workers are immunized, according to federal data, heightening the risk of outbreaks even among fully vaccinated elderly residents.

With the Delta variant driving the recent swell of cases, there are signs of a creeping uptick of infections in nursing homes, particularly among workers. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention is also investigating the source of outbreaks in Colorado nursing homes where there may be low vaccination rates.

The policy favoring lower penalties, adopted in 2017 by the Trump administration, directed regulators at the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services to shift from fining a nursing home for each day it was out of compliance with federal standards. The relaxed policy reduced many penalties to a single fine, effectively lowering amounts from hundreds of thousands of dollars to a maximum of $22,000.

The shift — sought by the nursing home industry, a powerful lobby — was part of the Trump administration’s rollback of government regulations across many business sectors.

“It is the most obvious change the Trump administration made,” said Toby Edelman, a senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “It’s a much, much lower penalty amount.”

Many of the nursing homes cited for poor infection controls, failing to protect residents from avoidable accidents, neglect, mistreatment bedsores, are repeat offenders. Larger fines act as a deterrent are more likely to signal strong enforcement of the rules, Ms. Edelman said.

With little fanfare, the Biden administration revoked the earlier guidance on the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services website in early July, saying it had “determined that the agency should retain the discretion at this time to impose a per-day penalty where appropriate to address specific circumstances of prior noncompliance.” Under the new policy, regulators can impose either per-day or per-instance penalties.

Consumer groups had challenged the policy in a federal lawsuit in January, arguing the weakening of enforcement put residents at greater risk. The AARP Foundation, which filed the lawsuit along with the firm of Constantine Cannon, applauded the Biden administration’s decision. Citing the lawsuit, Medicare officials declined to comment.

The main industry trade group, the American Health Care Association National Center for Assisted Living, said in a statement that fines levied on a per-day basis “only take precious resources away from an already underfunded industry, especially during an unprecedented time when nursing homes need every support to protect their residents.”

But critics of the Trump policy say it offered a mere slap on the wrist for nursing homes, even those at the greatest risk for harming patients workers. A year ago, a nursing home in Washington State, Prestige Post-Acute Rehab Center at Kittitas in Ellensburg, experienced a major outbreak, where 52 residents 43 employees were infected, according to a survey conducted for Medicare. Fifteen residents died.

The facility failed to meet infection control standards for more than a month, according to the survey, inadequately screening employees who fell ill were potentially infected. A cook who reported being symptomatic to her immediate supervisor was told to continue to come in, while other employees, including a nurse aide, also kept working despite feeling sick. Employees described haphazard screening attempts.

Federal regulators fined Prestige a total of $21,295 in March 2021, using the system of “per-instance” penalties. If it had been fined per day, the nursing home could have been penalized more than $600,000.

Maureen McKinney’s husband, known as Buck, was one of the residents who died from the virus at the home in July 2020. “I was just horrified,” she said when she learned of the fine.

Ms. McKinney said she pushed state regulators for an investigation after witnessing testing delays failures to isolate those who were sick, including when her husband’s roommate became ill. “I decided I was going to be relentless about it,” she said.

Prestige Care, which is headquartered in Vancouver, Wash., operates facilities throughout the western United States, said it relied on regulators “to appropriately set enforce the fines for instances when there are citations, we work with them to address the issues they cite.”

The company added, “losing members of our community is difficult under any circumstance, the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified our profound grief over the patients lost to the virus.”

When the Trump administration directed regulators to fine nursing homes on a per-instance basis, the policy became the norm, said Kelly Bagby, a senior attorney at the AARP Foundation. The lower fines were levied even in cases like at the facility in Washington State, where residents were found to be in what is called “immediate jeopardy,” at risk for serious harm.

“The corrosive effect of this change has to be underscored,” Ms. Bagby said.

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State attorneys general will appeal dismissal of Facebook antitrust suit

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The brought by 48 attorneys general against Facebook isn’t dead yet. A federal judge dismissed the suit last month, but the AGs have filed a notice of plan to appeal.

“We filed this notice of appeal because we disagree with the court’s decision must hold Facebook accountable for stifling competition, reducing innovation, cutting privacy protections,” New York’s attorney general Letitia James said, according to . “We can no longer allow Facebook to profit off of exploiting consumer data.”

The suit, which was filed in December, alleged that Facebook created a monopoly illegally stifled competition through its acquisitions of . Judge James E. Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that too much time had gone by since the mergers were approved for the case to proceed.

On the same day he dismissed the AGs’ suit, Boasberg tossed a similar case from the Federal Trade Commission. The agency is expected to file an amended suit next month.

The FTC lawsuit was initially filed in December while Trump administration appointee Joseph Simons led the agency. Big Tech critic Lina Khan was . Facebook has to recuse her from antitrust decisions involving the company.

Facebook has argued against both suits, claiming much of the evidence in the cases was submitted to the FTC before the purchases of Instagram WhatsApp were rubberstamped. It also claims it doesn’t have a monopoly, partly due to competition from the likes of Snap Twitter, as well as messaging apps.

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Activision Blizzard CEO says response to harassment lawsuit was ‘tone deaf’

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Following nearly a week of internal unrest, Activision Blizzard has published a letter from CEO Bobby Kotick addressing the company’s original response to the sexual harassment lawsuit brought against it by the California Department of Fair Employment Housing (DFEH) on July 20th. “Our initial responses to the issues we face together, to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” Kotick says in the letter addressed to Activision Blizzard employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives experiences respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy understanding.”

Kotick claims Blizzard Activision is taking “swift action” to ensure a safe, respectful inclusive working environment for women other minority groups. The company has hired law firm WilmerHale to review its policies, Kotick says Activision Blizzard will implement changes to its hiring practices. It also plans to make personnel tweaks remove content from its games employees players have said is “inappropriate” in light of the allegations against the company. On Tuesday, the World of Warcraft development team said it would remove specific references from the MMO. While the team didn’t elaborate, those references may involve items non-playable characters named after Alex Afrasiabi, one of the former Blizzard employees singled out in the DFEH lawsuit for repeated inappropriate behavior.

Notably, the letter doesn’t make mention of forced arbitration, saying only the company “will continue to investigate each every claim will not hesitate to take decisive action,” nor does it promise greater transparency when it comes to employee compensation. Those are two issues Activision Blizzard employees who are staging a walkout to protest for better working conditions highlighted in a statement of intent they shared on Tuesday.

In its initial public response to the lawsuit, Activision Blizzard said the allegations from DFEH included “distorted, in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” In a separate email to employees, Frances Townsend, executive vice president of corporate affairs at the company, claimed the lawsuit presents “a distorted untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago.”

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James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin is coming to ‘Rocket League’

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Yet another iconic car is coming to Rocket League, it’s one that’ll be nigh-on impossible to drive without humming a certain theme tune. James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 will arrive in the Item Shop on July 29th. 

Until August 4th, you’ll be able to snag the 1963 model of the car, along with a DB5 paint finish (which is designed to look like Aston Martin’s signature Silver Birch color), engine audio, wheels decal. Given the Bond movies’ focus on gadgetry, something about firing up the rocket boosters to score a goal with the DB5 seems just right. 

This won’t be a one-and-done deal for James Bond in Rocket League, either. More content related to the legendary superspy is in the pipeline. Developer Psyonix struck a multi-year deal with MGM Aston Martin.

Psyonix

This is the latest in a long line of crossovers between Rocket League pop culture tentpoles. The DeLorean from Back to the Future Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters have made their way to the arena. More recently, three vehicles from the Fast Furious franchise rolled into the game.

Meanwhile, the latest Bond movie, No Time to Die, is scheduled to finally hit theaters on September 30th in the UK October 8th in the US. The impact of COVID-19 forced distributors MGM Universal to delay it several times.

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How to watch Rocket Lab’s US Space Force satellite launch

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The is gearing up to launch a research development satellite on Thursday with the help of . The company’s is scheduled to launch from a site in New Zealsometime between 2AM 4AM ET (6PM-8PM local time) to take the Monolith satellite into low Earth orbit.

The aim of the mission, which is called “It’s a Little Chile Up Here” (a reference to the green chile from the Space Test Program’s New Mexico home), is to test small satellites for the Department of Defense. Monolith will help determine whether it’s large deployable sensors are feasible. Such sensors account for a significant proportion of a spacecraft’s total mass. Since the sensor may alter the spacecraft’s dynamic properties, the mission will examine whether it’s possible to maintain altitude control after the sensor has been deployed.

“Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, development timelines,” Rocket Lab . “The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities.”

You can watch the launch as it happens on the . A stream may also be available on .

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