As hospitals continue to manage rising cases of COVID-19 in their facilities, WHA’s government relations staff briefed members of the Public Policy Council at their Dec. 15 meeting on both COVID-related advocacy with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and other proactive advocacy work with the state Legislature and Congress.
WHA Senior Vice President Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk discussed several initiatives in continued development. These include:
- Working with the Department of Safety and Professional Services to expedite licenses for health care providers.
- Continuing to subsidize agency staffing costs through a state contract. So far, this program has placed more than 400 nurses, nursing assistants and other staff in acute-care and long-term care facilities.
- Ongoing discussions with the Department regarding “decompression” facilities for post-acute care.
- Utilization of Wisconsin National Guard staffing to help with direct patient care in long-term care facilities for the purpose of increasing availability of nursing home beds to free up inpatient care capacity.
WHA Policy Counsel Laura Leitch also discussed work with the DHS related to waiver flexibilities for hospitals and long-term care, as well as a tuition credit being offered by the University of Wisconsin System for students to work in health care facilities.
Members of the council provided various comments about issues facing hospitals right now as they manage their current volume of patients. Chief among them are a significant increase in staff resignations following last fall’s COVID-19 surge and a prolonged state of disease throughout 2021, increased dependency on travel agency nurses as both a constantly increasing cost and strain on staff morale, staff managing impatient and unruly patients and families, and longer hospitalizations resulting from more than 600 patients backed up in Wisconsin hospitals awaiting discharge to a skilled nursing facility.
Courtroom advocacy remains a priority for WHA, especially with pending cases that could impact the operations of Wisconsin hospitals and health systems. WHA General Counsel Matthew Stanford updated the council on recent action at both the state and federal court related to various employer vaccine-related decisions and litigation filed by the American Hospital Association related to implementation of the No Surprises Act, proposal supported by WHA and others that has now garnered concern with implementation due to its inconsistency with the law enacted by Congress.
WHA Senior Vice President of Government Relations Kyle O’Brien and Vice President of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter discussed WHA’s work on a variety of issues at both the state and federal level. O’Brien updated the council on the strong bipartisan support of white bagging legislation, known as Koreen’s Law, from 81 co-sponsors. O’Brien said that WHA expects to have public hearings on the legislation early in 2022.
O’Brien also discussed two other pieces of legislation being worked on in committee—one related to the ability for hospitals to deliver acute care in a patient’s home, consistent with Medicare’s Acute Hospital Care at Home program, and the other to clarify Wisconsin law for providers to offer prompt-pay discounts for patients. O’Brien stated he expects to see action on both pieces of legislation early in the new year.
Hoelter provided an update to the council on various negotiations occurring before Congress on the “Build Back Better” proposal and discussed WHA priorities included in the budget reconciliation package.