The governor’s announcement last week of his SMARTER plan marks yet another turning point in the fight against COVID-19, as we transition from a pandemic to an endemic. The SMARTER plan uses the lessons of the past two years to prepare for future COVID-19 surges or variants.
While this plan marks the move to the next phase, it’s also a clear acknowledgment that the virus is here for the foreseeable future, and we must continue to treat, mitigate, and persevere through the continued issues it brings. Among other things, the SMARTER plan acknowledges the need for flexibility during future surges and emergencies and the need to ensure health care facilities have the right tools and resources to respond to minimize the strain on our health care systems.
But even as we move forward, we know the governor’s plan won’t fix all the issues that have been created by the pandemic, and we recognize that we are still currently dealing with many ramifications of COVID-19. We know the workforce challenges your hospitals are facing and recognize and continue to push for investments in the pipeline, along with regulatory changes to improve efficiency and transparency in licensing, address limitations on scope of practice, and enhance education and training for nurses and nurse assistants.
With workforce top of mind, and the need to continue to have the space available to care for the influx of patients, Hospital Council and CHA continue to advocate for a three-month extension of COVID-19 flexibilities, including the California Department of Public Health space waiver and Emergency Medical Services Authority out-of-state health care personnel waiver, from March 31 until June 30. Without these waivers, we know your hospitals will lose thousands of vital out-of-state staff and temporary spaces that are making it possible to care for the high numbers of patients. CHA is encouraging the governor to announce these extensions as soon as possible.
Another problem laid bare by COVID-19 is ambulance patient offload times. And earlier this month, CHA and the California Professional Firefighters sent a joint letter to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and Elizabeth Basnett, acting director of the Emergency Medical Services Authority, that proposes six measures that can be implemented immediately to ease the stress on the system and preserve patient care. The six measures include:
- Collaborating on a communication program to help educate the public on the usage of the emergency medical services system
- Support for wall medic staffing
- Authority for alternate destinations
- Use of COVID-19 surge-designated urgent care overflow facilities
- Policies to facilitate use of available fire department resources throughout the state
- Implementation of proven strategies to facilitate transfer of patients from hospitals to long-term care facilities and other community levels of care
We will continue to advocate on all these issues so your hospitals can continue their lifesaving work and Californians can get the care they need.