Senate offers bills aimed at helping hospitals and boosting their workforce

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 7:45 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The healthcare crisis is complex and the first step in trying to tackle it is coming from the Mississippi Senate. They’ve introduced a series of bills in an attempt to address the different elements of the crisis.

Proposed Senate Legislation to Assist Hospitals & Shore Up Healthcare Workforce

Grant Program for Mississippi Hospitals (S.B. 2372)

A grant program for Mississippi hospitals distributing funds based on a number of licensed beds and type of care. The program would require hospitals to submit a report detailing their patient census, medical services offered, and a variety of other information to the Department of Health to allow the state and healthcare facilities to better plan for the future of the industry in Mississippi.

Hospital Nurse Loan Repayment Program (S.B. 2373)

A loan repayment program, initially funded through ARPA funds, for Mississippi nurses who go to work in a Mississippi hospital. Recipients will receive $6,000 each year for up to three years (maximum total of $18,000) toward any outstanding student loan debt.

Nursing/Allied Health Community College Grant Program (S.B. 2371)

A grant program, initially funded through ARPA funds, for community college nursing and allied health programs. Many programs in Mississippi have extensive waitlists. Grant recipients may use funds on equipment, infrastructure, curricula, or other expenses geared toward increasing capacity in nursing or allied health training programs. The Senate also introduced this program last year.

Hospital Residency & Fellowship Grant Program (S.B. 2371)

A grant program, initially funded through ARPA funds, for start-up costs to create new or add capacity in existing residency and fellowship programs in medical or surgical specialty areas at Mississippi hospitals. The federal government will reimburse a certain number of resident or fellowship seats in each facility, but the initial cost to start a program is prohibitive. Grant recipients may use funds on equipment, infrastructure, curricula, or other expenses geared toward increasing capacity or establishing new residency or fellowship programs.

Hospital Consolidation & Collaboration Legislation (S.B. 2323)

Legislation allowing for the modernization of the community hospital statutes by promoting and facilitating collaboration and consolidation of facilities and services where necessary to make them stronger and more financially viable. *This has also been filed in the House.

The Senate plan for helping hospitals and boosting their workforce includes those five bills. Let’s highlight a few of those. First, a grant program that even large hospitals say - would help.

“We have had a significant hit on the revenue in our hospitals,” noted Scott Kashman, Market President and CEO for St. Dominic Health Services and St. Dominic Hospital. “It’s certainly not just the small, smaller, or rural hospitals, it certainly impacts us as well.”

“It will require them the hospitals themselves to give us back information on who they’re serving and what services they are rendering,” explained Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann. “And that’s really important for the long term.”

The Hospital Association says its latest data indicates the nursing vacancies in hospitals, as of this month, has grown to more than 4,700.

“Do we make a dent in it?” noted Hosemann. “I’m very hopeful.”

The Senate plan would offer up loan repayment for nurses and another would boost the number of nursing students at community colleges. Plus, they’d try to add capacity to residency and fellowship programs in the state.

For the long-term piece, they want to make it easier for hospitals to collaborate.

“It may well be even though these others are significant amounts of money, it may well be the most important one long term,” said Hosemann of the hospital consolidation and collaboration legislation.

The CEO of Covington County, Magee General, and Simpson General hospitals Gregg Gibbes says he’s seen collaboration work and it’s something he believes could be modeled on a larger scale.

“Collaborated together to help prop each other up to help share certain services,” noted Gibbes. “So, having that network to be able to if you don’t have event at one hospital, maybe you can have it at the other to transfer and help support each other has worked well for us in the past few years.”

The bills combined are a promising step for the Mississippi Hospital Association.

“When you start cutting services, and you’re eliminating the health care options that you’re able to provide in Mississippi, so we don’t want to do that any more than what’s already been done,” said Richard Roberson, VP of State Policy/General Counsel for the Mississippi Hospital Association. “So, we’re just asking our state leadership to step up and help.”

You may wonder why Medicaid expansion wasn’t mentioned. Roberson explains that it’s no longer the only answer to come out of the current crisis.

“What would have been a pretty simple and pretty easily solvable financial solution nine years ago, has become much worse,” he said. “So, now it’s that Medicaid expansion, certainly as part of that, but it’s become much more than that because we’ve dug the hole, almost $5 billion too deep. And Medicaid expansion only gets you about $250 million a year.”

The Lt. Governor says Medicaid expansion is not part of the Senate plan.

“I don’t see that as being primary,” he said. “I see this rural health problem being the primary one.”

But he is asking that the Division of Medicaid look for ways to increase the Medicaid/Medicare reimbursements to hospitals.

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