The community has joined federal and state agencies in responding to the coronavirus pandemic by helping those affected through a variety of ways:
» Emergency and Disaster Response Fund
The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, in partnership with Dogwood Health Trust and other organizations, has created the Emergency and Disaster Response Fund to accept and strategically disburse funds to address COVID-19 pandemic response and relief efforts in 18 counties of western North Carolina, including the Qualla Boundary. The fund will provide flexible resources to organizations with deep roots in communities that are addressing basic needs and filling public health gaps. The goal is to help regional front-line nonprofit organizations quickly meet increasing demands for help. People who would like more information or who would like to donate to the fund may do so by visiting www.cfwnc.org. Administrative fees are waived so that every dollar will go directly to assistance.
» Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide resources to state and local jurisdictions in support of the nation’s response to the coronavirus disease through the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020. The supplemental contains $8.3 billion government-wide, with resources directed for grants or cooperative agreements to states, localities, territories and tribes to accelerate planning and operational readiness for COVID-19 preparedness and response, as well as develop tools and strategies, provide technical assistance and program support, as well as ensure ongoing communication and coordination among public health agencies and partners throughout the response.
» Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust
The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust announced $1.5 million in immediate, flexible funding to respond to COVID-19 throughout North Carolina. The trust granted $1 million to the N.C. Healthcare Association Foundation, a membership organization of hospitals, health systems and clinics that is taking a lead role in responding to COVID-19 while helping other safety-net providers stay abreast of developments at the state and national levels. Of the $1 million in funding, NCHA will receive $500,000 for hospitals, $250,000 for the North Carolina Free and Charitable Clinics, and $250,000 for the North Carolina Community Health Center Association. These funds can be used for many needs, including, but not limited to medical supplies, personal protective equipment, testing kits and telehealth solutions.
» COVID-19 Community Emergency Response Fund
The Community Foundation of Burke County has announced the creation of the COVID-19 Community Emergency Response Fund to address the health and financial crisis impacting Burke County. CFBC is joined in this effort by the Burke County United Way, the Grace Episcopal Church Foundation, the Huffman-Cornwell Foundation, the Rostan Family Foundation and the Western Piedmont Foundation.
This fund has been established to assist tax-exempt nonprofit agencies addressing human needs in the community. Nonprofits may apply for grants that assist those who are in need of food, shelter, mental/medical assistance, and financial services. Gifts can be made by sending a check payable to “CFBC,” to PO Box 1156, Morganton, NC 28680, and specifying “COVID-19” on the check. Donations also can be made online at www.cfburkecounty.org. Visitors should click on the “Donate Now” button and then clicking on the “COVID-19 Community Emergency Response Fund” link. All administrative fees will be waived, and 100 percent of the funds raised will support the critical needs of our county at this time. For more information, contact Nancy W. Taylor, CFBC executive director, at 828-437-7105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
» Neighbors Helping Neighbors fund
In response to the national COVID-19 crisis, the Blue Ridge HealthCare Foundation has created the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” fund to be used to aid the patients, their families and teammates of Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge who are facing a hardship during this time and to assist with future essential needs. Anyone can donate to Neighbors Helping Neighbors by visiting the foundation’s website at www.brhcfoundation.org. For more information, contact Traci Riebel at email@example.com — 828-580-5356.
» Food Lion
Food Lion has announced a $3.1 million donation, the majority of which is earmarked to feed people in financial distress due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The $3.1 million dollars will be designated to support the following:
» $500,000 donation to fund COVID-19 medical research at UNC Health
» An additional $1 million donation, equivalent to 10 million meals, will nourish local communities through Food Lion’s hunger relief platform, Food Lion Feeds.
» Food Lion also will infuse $1 million into the Lion’s Pride Foundation, its associate emergency care fund to support associates whose families may be impacted by this crisis.
» North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities
The North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities has voted to invest $75,000 to a relief fund for one-time, time-limited projects to assist in filling gaps in services or activities that people with intellectual or other developmental disabilities are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funds are open to North Carolina nonprofit agencies and other state community-based organizations that provide supports to people with I/DD and their families who are affected by the statewide coronavirus response. Funds must be used to meet the needs of people with I/DD and their families and promote engagement with peers, alleviate anxiety due to social distancing and/or increase positive shared experiences.
For more information on the grant, its requirements and the application, visit https://bit.ly/2y1nY8W.
Health insurance help
» Medicaid waivers
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved N.C. Medicaid waiver requests under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act. The waivers provide relief such as prior authorization and provider enrollment requirements, suspending certain nursing home pre-admission reviews, and facilitating reimbursement to providers for care delivered in alternative settings due to facility evacuations.
Examples of the waivers available include:
» Temporarily suspend prior authorization requirements.
» Extend existing authorizations for services through the end of the public health emergency.
» Modify certain timeline requirements for state fair hearings and appeals.
» Relax provider enrollment requirements to allow states to more quickly enroll out-of-state or other new providers to expand access to care.
» Relax public notice and submission deadlines for certain COVID-19-focused Medicaid state plan amendments, enabling states to make changes faster and ensure they can be retroactive to the beginning of the emergency.
These Section 1135 waivers went into effect March 1 and will end upon termination of the public health emergency, including any extensions.
» Medicaid payment increases
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division of Health Benefits will temporarily increase payments rates to long-term care providers and facilities to support them in caring for Medicaid beneficiaries who are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19. To target some of the most vulnerable Medicaid beneficiaries, the following Medicaid providers and services will receive a 5 percent increase in fee-for-service reimbursement rates, retroactive to March 10: skilled nursing facilities; hospice facilities; health departments; home health and private duty nursing; personal care services; physical, occupational, speech and audiology therapy; program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly; community Alternatives for Children and for Adults
LME-MCOs will receive a 1.5 percent increase in their per person rate effective April 1.
For more information, visit www.medicaid.ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.
» Medicare telehealth expansion
The federal government has expanded Medicare telehealth coverage that will enable beneficiaries to receive a wider range of health care services from doctors without having to travel to a health care facility. Medicare will temporarily pay clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries. Beneficiaries will be able to receive telehealth services in any health care facility, including a physician’s office, hospital, nursing home or rural health clinic, as well as from their homes, for common office visits, mental health counseling and preventive health screenings. This will help ensure Medicare beneficiaries, who are at a higher risk for COVID-19, will not have to go to a doctor’s office or hospital, which puts themselves or others at risk. Patients also will be able to access their doctors using more communication tools, including telephones that have audio and video capabilities. Clinicians can bill immediately for dates of service starting March 6. Telehealth services are paid under the Physician Fee Schedule at the same amount as in-person services. Medicare coinsurance and deductibles still apply for these services. Additionally, the HHS Office of Inspector General is providing flexibility for health care providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal health care programs. For more information, visit: https://go.cms.gov/3d5jkXn.
» Blue Cross NC cost-sharing waivers
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is waiving member cost-sharing — including deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance — for treatments related to COVID-19 if a member is diagnosed with the virus for both in-network and out-of-network providers through June 1. The company will reimburse providers in full at its in-network or Medicare rates in an effort to support them financially and administratively during this emergency.
Blue Cross NC also will work to shield members from balance billing and will work with providers to ensure access to affordable care during this crisis.
The member cost-share waiver of COVID-19 related treatments applies to all fully insured, State Health Plan and Medicare members. Self-funded employer groups will be given the option to apply these changes to their employees’ plans.
Blue Cross NC has put several other measures into place to help members during the COVID-19 public health emergency: expanding coverage for virtual care visits; waiving out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 testing; increasing access to medications.
For more information, visit BlueCrossNC.com/Corona virus.
Dental emergency help
While oral health providers have been prompted to postpone all elective procedures, many are available to see patients with emergency dental needs who would otherwise have to seek care at an emergency department. The N.C. Oral Health Collaborative has released a statewide map of emergency oral health resources, including Federally Qualified Health Centers, county health departments and free and charitable clinics, for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The map is available at https://oralhealthnc.org/covid-19/. If patients require care for an urgent oral health need, they should find a nearby practice, but call before going in. Practice sites may have special guidance to ensure the safety of staff and patients alike.
To help families access food during the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is temporarily increasing benefits for March 2020 and April 2020 to current food and nutrition services recipients in North Carolina. All families that receive FNS will receive the maximum amount allowed for March 2020 and April 2020 for their household size. The increase is subject to the following guidelines:
» Households that have already received the maximum amount for their household size will not receive the temporary increase.
» The household size will not include ineligible or disqualified members.
» Households that were ineligible in either March 2020 or April 2020 will not receive a temporary increase for the month(s) they were ineligible.
Approximately 360,000 households will begin receiving the temporary increased benefit on their Electronic Benefit Transfer card on April 1 and April 22. They will be randomly generated and staggered every other workday until all eligible households have received their temporary increase.
Recipients will continue to receive their regular benefits and should be aware they will receive two separate payments for March and two for April.
To check availability of benefits, families should contact 888-622-7328, visit www.ebtedge.com and click on “More Information” under “EBT Cardholders” or download the free ebtEDGE mobile app on either the Apple Store Or Google Play.
For more information, contact the EBT Call Center at 866-719-0141.
Families and individuals who do not currently receive benefits can apply online with ePass at www.nc.gov/services/e-pass.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has authorized the Federal Housing Administration to implement an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single-family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages for the next 60 days.
The moratorium applies to homeowners with FHA-insured Title II Single Family forward and Home Equity Conversion (reverse) mortgages, and directs mortgage servicers to halt all new foreclosure actions and suspend all foreclosure actions currently in process, and cease all evictions of tenants from FHA-insured single-family properties. The FHA continues to encourage servicers to offer its suite of loss mitigation options to distressed borrowers — including those that could be impacted by the coronavirus — to help prevent them from going into foreclosure. These include short- and long-term forbearance options, mortgage modifications and other mortgage payment relief options available based on the borrower’s individual circumstances. The Olive Hill Community Economic Development Corporation is an approved HUD Housing Counseling Agency that can guide homeowners through some of these programs.
For more information, contact the OHCEDC at 828-475-4620 or visit ohcedc.org.
Blue Ridge Energy has established the “In This Together” funding campaign to provide unprecedented levels of crisis energy bill assistance during the coronavirus pandemic. In This Together is funded by Operation Round Up donations. Blue Ridge Energy invites people to make donations to the fund securely online at BlueRidgeEnergy.com/Together; by contacting 800-451-5474; or by sending a check made payable to “Blue Ridge Energy Members Foundation” to PO Box 112, Lenoir, NC 28645.
The cooperative has not disconnected electric service from any member for the past two weeks since the crisis began. Late fees have been waived and special payment plans are being offered, and Propane and Fuels is waiving fees for emergency deliveries.
The NCDHHS has partnered with the N.C. Child Care Resource and Referral Network to launch a hotline to provide child care options for children of critical workers who do not have access to typical care because of COVID-19 closures. Workers who need care can call 888-600-1685 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to receive information about local options for children from infants through age 12. Care will be offered by child care providers who agree to meet updated health, safety and operational guidelines. Priority will be given to children of critical workers, which includes emergency and first responders, hospital staff, front-line health care providers, nursing and adult group home staff, child care program staff, food service staff and others considered essential workers. Priority also will be given for care for children receiving child welfare services, and those who are homeless or living in unstable or unsafe living arrangements.
The department also will provide financial assistance to essential workers for child care and bonuses to teachers and staff who provide child care during COVID-19 through the Emergency Child Care Subsidy Program. Financial assistance will be offered through May and may be extended. To receive an emergency care subsidy, parents must complete the COVID-19 Parent Application for Financial Assistance for Emergency Child Care, available at https://bit.ly/3aShwPV and submit it to their child care provider. Financial aid is available to parents and caregivers who are essential workers and who meet the following criteria: their income is below 300 percent of the poverty line; they are an essential worker fighting COVID-19 or protecting the health and safety of communities; they feel they have no other viable child care options available to them.
Child care teachers and staff that work in programs serving essential workers will see bonuses in their pay in April and May. NCDHHS will pay child care programs staying open to serve essential workers $300 per month for each full-time teacher and $200 per month for each full-time non-teaching staff member, including administrators, janitors and other support staff. Bonus payments will be paid by the child care programs to all eligible staff during their regular pay periods. Part-time workers also are eligible for prorated bonus awards.
In addition, all child care programs, whether they remain open or have closed, will receive regular child care subsidy payments based on typical attendance for April and May. NCDHHS also will pay all NC Pre-K providers, regardless of site location or if the program is open or closed, in full through the remainder of the program year based on February attendance. NC Pre-K providers are expected to support NC Pre-K children and families remotely during the remainder of the program year.
For more information about child care during COVID-19 in North Carolina, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/covid19/child-care.
Substance abuse recovery help
People in substance abuse recovery may not be able to meet with their support groups during the pandemic, according to Kim James, director of Burke Recovery. She said the local substance abuse recovery community is working to make sure people in recovery can still access services from home through various telehealth platforms.
“Individuals with concerns are encouraged to contact their treatment provider, their sponsor (if applicable), and/or the Burke County Emergency Operations Center at 828-764-9388,” James said. “Individuals in crisis are encouraged to contact Partners Behavioral Health Management Access to Care Services at 888-235-4673.”