HCPS 411 Update

March 19, 2020

A Message From Our Superintendent

The COVID-19 virus has had a significant impact on our day-to-day routines, especially within the last week as we first transitioned all students and then employees from our schools and work sites to the safety of their own homes.

I want to take this opportunity to thank those employees who, due to the nature of their jobs, remain in our buildings to ensure critical tasks take place:

  • Our custodial crews, who are sanitizing our buildings;
  • Our Food and Nutrition staff, who are working tirelessly to keep our most vulnerable and needy students fed during this crisis; and
  • Our payroll staff, whose efforts allow us to continue to receive our paychecks.

In addition, I want to thank our 12-month staff for remaining “all hands on deck” and doing whatever it takes to get our important work done in less-than-ideal circumstances. I appreciate the many efforts of our administrators and teachers for keeping in touch with their students through social media as well.

While there is little certainty about what to expect in the near future, I believe that honest and effective communication may help to decrease some of the anxiety related to this situation. Information about COVID-19 continues to evolve at rapid pace. I am working in partnership with other local and state leaders to discuss what we are learning and the far-reaching effects it is having on our community. Each day, my Senior Staff team is working together on how to navigate through this unprecedented time and make decisions that are in the best interest of our school system. Please be assured that the safety of our school community is my top priority as we move forward.

I will use this space in our weekly newsletter to check in with you as needed and provide any updates as I have them.

Each of you and your families remain in my thoughts. We are all in this together. Stay well.

Dr. Sean Bulson

Superintendent of Schools

HCEA Questions

Is there a plan in place for educators who do not have a device at home?

That was the purpose for sending the staff survey. The results indicate some staff members do not have access to devices and others may be sharing with family members who are also working from home. We are looking at strategies for prepping devices to distribute to staff. This will require borrowing devices from schools and re-imaging them to operate on home Wi-Fi networks.

Is there a plan in place for educators who do not have reliable Wi-Fi?

We are looking into this as well, but options are limited. The survey results have helped us better understand our access gaps.

Will a follow-up survey be sent to families and staff? It has been mentioned that the number of devices versus the number of people who would need to use them was not a consideration, as well as the reliability of the internet in the home.

The survey that was sent to HCPS families was an effort to get a broad sense of what the need is in our school community, and not to gather specific information. We continue to explore all possible options for 1:1 devices for our students.

Teachers would like to communicate with their students, but many have been advised not to. Is it acceptable for educators to “check in” with their students (using Remind, Class Dojo, etc.) and encourage them to read and/or share educational materials to keep students entertained?

The school system very much appreciates that teachers want to support their students during this time; however, teachers are directed not to request additional work from students or mandate students to “meet” with them virtually. Currently, the Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment is working on recommended learning experiences for the March 30-April 9 time period. These resources will be available for students/families in paper form, as well as on hcps.org by the end of the March 23-27 week. Due to student privacy concerns, please use HCPS sanctioned tools and resources only when communication with students, e.g. TAC, HCPS email, Padlet, etc. More information for teachers will be forthcoming in the near future as plans for further instruction are currently being developed should the school system be closed for an extended period of time.

I realize that you are awaiting guidance from Dr. Salmon, but is there any timeline for extending the closure?

Any decisions regarding the school closure will come directly from State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon and/or Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan. No additional guidance has been shared at this time; however, any new information we receive will be shared with employees as soon as we have it.

Will you be sending an email/letter to employees to provide guidance in lieu of the calls/emails from the Manager of Communications?

Dr. Bulson will send a weekly message to all staff via the HCPS 411 Update. He will also provide regular updates to our school community as a whole via a Blackboard Connect 5 call and email to families each week. In addition, Dr. Bulson is staying connected to HCPS students via our Student Member of the Board of Education, Christian Walker. Students may send their specific questions or concerns to Christian directly at Christian.Walker@hcps.org.

IEP and 504 timelines are a concern. I am aware that timelines are currently frozen. Has any guidance been given regarding Special Education services after this initial closure?

We are seeking guidance from MSDE and consulting with others around the state on this. We are working on plans for how to deliver services to special education students beyond this initial closure. Consideration of the computer/internet access of students and staff are at the forefront of these discussions.

How will long term closures impact seniors? Service Learning hours? Credit for 2nd semester courses (thinking of the impact on a student’s schedule next year)?

Our goal is to develop a plan to ensure that all seniors can graduate on time, and underclassman are able to stay on the four-year plan to graduate high school. We are working with the Maryland State Department of Education, our Board of Education, and within HCPS Senior Staff to develop models to that end. We are looking at continuity of instruction models through an equity lens. We know that things will look and feel different in this time of great uncertainty, but we are confident that the end goal will continue to be the same as previous years.

Thinking ahead, will educators be allowed in the school building to access educational materials?

At this time, all HCPS buildings and properties remain closed. As we are given more direction moving forward, we will modify the closure if needed.

Has any consideration been given to employees who were on the “potential non-renewal” list?

Teachers who are recommended for non-renewal will be notified by Human Resources of the recommendation by April 7.

Regarding employees who would be currently represented by HCESC, will hourly employees continue to receive a paycheck regardless of the length of the closure?

All HCESC employees will continue to receive a paycheck as outlined in the negotiated agreement. Those employees that qualify for a 4th make-up step will see that increase in the first paycheck in April.

Has someone verified that each HCESC eligible 12-month employee has the ability to work from home in some capacity?

HCESC employees are being utilized based their individual capacity to work at home. No employee will be required to complete tasks for which they do not have the capacity to complete at home.

Coronavirus Updates From CareFirst

A Message From CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield:

As a mission-driven healthcare company, the actions we take in times of significant public health concern are critical to caring for the people we serve. Our associates have risen to the occasion to ensure CareFirst can support appropriate public health readiness and response.

With the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a pandemic, the United States declaring a state of emergency, and many state and local governments instituting enhanced measures, we continue to closely monitor information shared by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and coordinate with state and local health departments. The CareFirst leadership team and our clinical staff throughout the company are working around the clock to understand and respond to new developments, anticipate needs and institute proactive steps. We are taking all appropriate precautions to protect our staff, ensure business continuity and take responsible action as we do our part to protect communities and respond to community healthcare needs.

While all our plans contain coverage for the treatment of illnesses, we are now taking additional measures to ensure members are not subject to deductibles, copays or coinsurance as indicated below. These changes are effective retroactively for dates of service on and after February 4, 2020 and will be in effect for the duration of the public health crisis. We are taking this action because the COVID-19 outbreak poses a unique and serious threat. To best support public health readiness and response, we cannot allow financial barriers to interfere with members getting the care they need in the safest possible setting. Through these enhanced policy measures, combined with responsible public and private action, we can collectively help to mitigate the impact of this disease in our workplaces and communities.

CareFirst will be taking the following actions:

  • In response to CDC and public health officials’ strong recommendation to practice social distancing , encouraging the use of telemedicine, telephonic consultations, and virtual sites of care such as CareFirst Video Visit.
  • Copays, coinsurance, and deductibles* will be waived for the duration of this public health emergency for the following:
    • Testing related to COVID-19
    • Office Visits related to COVID-19
    • Treatment of COVID-19
    • CareFirst Video Visits – for any purpose including behavioral health, lactation support, nutrition counseling and urgent care services
    • Telephone Calls with providers – for clinical staff of primary care, general practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, OBGYN and associated nurse practitioners
  • Covering in-network and out of network** visit to diagnose or test for COVID-19 regardless of the care setting (doctor’s office, urgent care, ER, etc.). When services are rendered in-network, member cost share (copays, coinsurance and deductibles) will be waived. When services are rendered out-of-network, CareFirst/Plan Sponsor pays 100% up to our allowed amount, but member may be balance billed.

CareFirst Frequently Asked Questions:

What changes are being made to benefit plan designs to ensure members get the care they need during the COVID-19 public health crisis?

CareFirst is waiving member cost share (copays, coinsurance and deductibles*,) for the following services that are performed both in-network or out-of-network:**

  • Medically necessary diagnostic tests at approved locations in accordance with CDC guidance related to COVID-19.
  • Any visit to diagnose or test for COVID-19 regardless of the care setting - doctor’s office, urgent care, ER, etc.
  • Medically necessary treatment for members who have been diagnosed with, or are strongly suspected of having, COVID-19.
  • In response to CDC and public health officials’ strong recommendation to practice social distancing, encouraging the use of telemedicine, telephonic consultations, and virtual sites of care such as CareFirst Video Visit
  • Copays, coinsurance, and deductibles will be waived for the duration of this public health emergency for the following: testing related to COVID-19; office visits related to COVID-19; treatment of COVID-19; CareFirst Video Visits – for any purpose including behavioral health, lactation support, nutrition counseling and urgent care services; and telephone calls with providers – for clinical staff of primary care, general practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, OBGYN and associated nurse practitioners.

Additionally, CareFirst has eliminated prior authorization requirements for diagnostic tests and covered services that are medically necessary and consistent with CDC guidance for members diagnosed with COVID-19.

If pharmacy benefits are administered through CareFirst, early medication refill limits have been eliminated on 30-day maintenance medications (consistent with a member's benefit plan) and members are encouraged to use their 90-day mail order benefit. Member cost sharing will apply as normal. CareFirst will also ensure formulary flexibility if there are shortages or access issues. Members will not be liable for additional charges that stem from obtaining a non-preferred medication if the preferred medication is not available due to shortage or access issues.

*CareFirst will follow IRS guidance for members who are enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

**CareFirst will process and pay medically necessary and appropriate out-of-network claims at the in-network level. The member will be responsible for the difference between the CareFirst allowed amount and the out-of-network provider’s billed charge.

When are the changes to the member cost share effective and how long will these changes be in effect?

Changes are effective retroactively for dates of service (for testing, site of service visit, and treatment) on and after February 4, 2020 and will be in effect for the duration of the public health crisis. For telemedicine and CareFirst Video Visit, waiving of member cost share will be effective March 16th and in effect for the duration of the public health crisis.

I am a self-funded employer, what is the projected cost to my Plan if I follow the steps CareFirst is taking for their fully insured commercial customers?

Due to the rapidly evolving nature of the coronavirus public health event, the cost impact for a self-insured employer to fully cover these services are uncertain. However, general guidance and ranges are estimated below and subject to change:

  • Diagnostic Testing: The allowed amount set by CMS for the COVID-19 test is $51.33. Tests will only be conducted in accordance with CDC guidelines and by the direction of a physician who orders the test.
  • Telephone consult will be added as a covered benefit with an allowed of $20 and no member cost share
  • The below outlines the allowed amount for CareFirst Video Visits by type of service: Urgent Care - $49; Therapist - $80 (Master’s level), $95 (Doctorate level); Psychiatrist - $175 (initial visit), $90 (follow up visit); Registered Dietician - $60; Lactation Consultant - $110 (initial visit), $60 (follow up visit).
  • Treatment: Treatment for COVID-19 will follow the plan design in place for your employees today.
  • The only additional cost to you would be the member’s share of deductible, copay or coinsurance for the services listed above.

For the Latest Information:

Because this situation continues to evolve, CareFirst encourages people to stay informed by visiting the CDC website. If individuals have travel plans, be sure to check out the CDC's travel advisories, including the recently released CDC travel guidance for older Americans, people with underlying health concerns and all travelers planning cruise ship travel.

Know Before You Go When You Need Care

Knowing where to go when you need medical care is key to getting the best treatment with the lowest out-of-pocket costs. In addition to your primary care provider (PCP), you have other options for immediate care* including:

  • FirstHelp, our 24-hour nurse advice line
  • CareFirst Video Visit
  • Convenience Care Centers
  • Urgent Care Centers
  • Emergency Rooms

Please review the attached flier to learn more about these options for care.

*In the case of a life-threatening emergency, you should always call 911 or go straight to the emergency room. CareFirst Video Visit does not replace these services.

Home Fitness Class Opportunities Through CareFirst

CareFirst, through their wellness vendor, Health Fitness, is offering a free trial now through April 30 for on-demand fitness classes called Wellbeats. HCPS employees and dependents enrolled in a CareFirst health care plan will have access to a variety of virtual workout classes. Fore more information and how to register, please see the attached documents. It is recommended that those registering use their HCPS email address.

Updates to the Maryland State Retirement & Pension System Member Portal

The Maryland State Retirement & Pension System (MSRA) is working to modernize how it administers pensions for Maryland State workers. MPAS+ is a project that will help them achieve that goal. As part of the MPAS+ project, pension system members will get an improved version of the current member portal, which will now be called “mySRPS.” The improved version of the member portal will include significant new features, such as:

  • A new self-service website for participants,
  • Improved self-service website for employers,
  • A new Customer Relationship Management system, and
  • Member document storage.

In the next two weeks, it is expected that active participants currently working for HCPS will receive a home mailing from the State of Maryland with an access code and steps to set up a user account. Keep an eye out for this information about how to register and the new features available on the website. If you have any questions, please contact the Benefits Office at Benefits@hcps.org.

Harford County Counts in the 2020 Census

Census 2020 is happening now. Done every 10 years, the census is a count of everyone living in the United States.

When is the census?

Postcards will be mailed to every household in Harford County between March 12 and 20, and citizens should receive them within a few days.

How does it work?

Those postcards will have the official census logo, a website address, and a personal census ID number so residents can respond online. Online is the easiest way to complete the census, and anyone without a computer can use a smartphone. The postcard will also have information about paper forms and how to get help by phone.

What does the census ask?

The number of people living or staying in your home on April 1, 2020, and related questions.

What is not asked?

Your citizenship, social security number, or credit card or bank account numbers.

What happens with the information?

By law, answers are anonymous and the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information, including to other government agencies.

What is done with the information?

The data received is used to determine how much funding Harford County gets from the federal government to be used locally for education, roads, public safety, services for seniors, children’s health insurance, addiction treatment and prevention, and other resources. In Harford County, about $1,820 in federal funding is allocated for each resident per year, based on census data.

What was Harford’s response rate in 2010?

81 percent. Harford’s population at the time was 244,826.

That’s good, right?

Yes, but it still means millions of dollars in federal funds were left on the table. If 20 percent of the population goes uncounted in 2020, Harford County will lose $93 million in federal funding per year. The more people who are counted, the more funding we will receive. Census data also determines the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives and to draw congressional, state and local legislative districts.

When will census figures be available?

Census data will be delivered to Congress and the president in December by the Census Bureau and shared with local jurisdictions in the spring of 2021.

How can the public help?

Talk to five people in your community about the census and why it matters. Visit the county website www.harfordcountymd.gov/Census2020 and/or apply for a job as a census worker at https://www.census.gov/jobs.

Shout Out!

March is Social Work Month! The Social Work profession for generations has worked to strengthen the well-being and meet the basic needs of all people, especially people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. THANK YOU to our dedicated and hardworking HCPS social workers in Special Education, Title I, and Comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CCEIS) placements in our schools through out our county!

Office of Communications and Family Outreach

Editor: Lindsay Bilodeau, communications specialist

To submit an HCPS Shout Out or recognize a colleague in the Spotlight on Customer Service, please email the information and photo (if available) to HCPS.411@hcps.org.