After more than two-and-a-half years, I know we are all tired, exhausted, frustrated, and ready to put COVID-19 behind us. But although much of the public and many of our elected officials have moved on from the pandemic, choosing to get back to regularly scheduled activities and no longer considering this a health emergency, COVID-19 remains an issue that deeply impacts Californians and our hospitals. Nationwide, COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising over the past several weeks, and closer to home in the Bay Area is where you’ll find California’s worst case rate.
While hospitals throughout the state are faring well — at least COVID-19-wise — thanks to vaccines and other interventions, it’s a good reminder that we must prepare for this virus to be around much longer. With a potential summer wave of COVID-19 on the horizon, CHA is seeking an extension of the space and personnel waivers that are set to expire on June 30. These flexibilities, which are critical to the state’s current health care capacity, include:
- California Department of Public Health space waiver in All Facilities Letter 20-26.12
- Emergency Medical Services Agency’s authority to approve out-of-state health care personnel
Without these waivers, your hospitals will lose temporary spaces that make it possible to care for the 10% more patients who need hospital care than before the pandemic. The expiration of these waivers would also mean hospitals will lose the ability to rapidly add licensed clinical staff from other states when a surge hits. With hospitals already struggling to fill positions, now is not the time to lose the flexibility to backfill staff with out-of-state health care personnel. Doing so will only mean a loss in the number of total caregivers when you need them most. It is imperative that the state understands what the impacts will be on your communities if these flexibilities are not extended.
At the same time, we have to acknowledge that COVID-19 isn’t all your hospitals must contend with at this time. Multiple legislative and regulatory issues being considered at the local, regional, state, and federal level will impact hospitals. They include:
- The May state budget revision
- Potential regulation and legislation concerning ambulance patient offload times
- Medi-Cal restructuring
- Workforce issues, not just in hospitals, but throughout the entire health care delivery system
- White-bagging policies being promoted by insurance plans that threaten patients’ access to safe and timely medication
- Ongoing supply chain problems such as shortage of CT contrast media and infant formula
These are some of the key priorities for Hospital Council and CHA as we continue to advocate for your hospitals with local leaders, state officials, and the Legislature. Just as health care workers have shown so much resilience since the pandemic began — as we’ve navigated a pandemic the likes of which no one has seen before — we must do the same as we work on these issues that are of vital importance to hospitals.