Legislature allocates over $400 million to bolster health workforce

The legislature’s recently approved bill that distributes $16 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding appropriates over $400 million in federal funds to support the state’s faltering health care workforce. Senate Bill 8 passed during Texas’s third special session, which ended last week. It now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for signature.

 

 

At last month’s 2021 North Texas State of Reform Health Policy Conference, Adam Maurer, chief operating officer at OrthoLoneStar, called Texas’s health care staffing shortage the biggest issue facing the state’s health care system. Staff who have quit health facilities that have enforced vaccine mandates, like Houston Methodist, have added to this shortage in recent months.

The legislation allocates $378 million to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to address “critical” staffing needs in the state’s health care facilities. This can include providing recruitment and retention bonuses to facilities, the bill says.

$200 million of this $378 million will be used only for nursing facilities. The Texas Association for Home Care and Hospice had called on the legislature to appropriate over $400 million in ARPA funds to these facilities this session. Nursing home providers are grateful for the appropriated funds, but are still calling for more support, according to NewsChannel 10

$178 million must be used only for assisted living facilities, home health agencies, community attendants, and facilities serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The bill says the legislature intends HHSC to prioritize facilities in compliance with various reporting requirements — including those of Rider 143 and other legislation from the 87th Legislature — when selecting recipients. HHSC must also submit an annual report to the legislature detailing how they allocated the funds.

The bill also appropriates $21.7 million to DSHS to increase the emergency medical response service (EMS) workforce. The bill says this funding should be prioritized for rural and underserved areas. These can include programs to increase the number of emergency medical technicians in the state and funding for EMS education programs.

As part of the $2 billion given to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) for COVID-19 recovery, the bill requires some of this funding be used to support surge staffing at local hospitals, long-term care facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and nursing facilities during the pandemic. The exact amount DSHS will reserve for this purpose, however, is unclear at this point.