5 Things Virginia: Health in the special session budget, 4th wave, Maternal health


Emily Boerger


It’s an odd time in COVID. Public opinion has turned gloomy, with Gallup reporting that more people are pessimistic about the future of COVID and getting the disease than are optimistic. That’s the first time since January that more folks are worried than hopeful.

Moreover, 1 in 3 vaccinated individuals are now “somewhat” or “very worried” about getting COVID. Thanks for hyping that 0.1% chance of a breakthrough, media. Hope it was worth it.

Meanwhile 20% of unvaccinated individuals are “somewhat” or “very worried” about getting COVID. Maybe 80% of unvaccinated folks are a bit overconfident here. But, for those 20% that are worried, there is a vaccine. It will keep you from getting sick, and almost absolutely keep you out of the hospital. You’ll have less worry by getting it — trust me on this.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Health allocations in special session budget

Virginia’s special session concluded last week after lawmakers passed a plan to spend $3.5 billion in federal COVID relief funds. We took a look at the health-specific funding included in the proposals which we outline in detail here.

Notable health allocations include: $30 million for building infrastructure improvements at local health departments, $10 million to the Department of Health to implement an electronic health records system, $700 million to support broadband expansion, and $50 million to improve drinking water access for small and disadvantaged communities. The remaining $761 million of the $4.3 billion in funds provided through ARPA will be considered when the General Assembly convenes in January.


2. Capitol insiders react to special session

Following the conclusion of the special session, State of Reform Reporter Nicole Pasia reached out to health policy insiders in the state for their takes on lawmakers’ decisions. VDH Director of Public Health Planning and Evaluation John Ringer supports the decision to leave $761 million unallocated to provide flexibility for future projects.

Health care lobbyist Scott Johnson says as a fiscally conservative and cautious state, lawmakers dedicated a lot of funding to one-time expenditures rather than ongoing programs. Along with the funding allocations, lawmakers elected 8 new judges to the Court of Appeals during the special session. Del. Kathy Tran applauded the diversity of the slate of judges, noting that for the first time, the court “looks more like Virginia.”


3. Q&A: Stephanie Spencer on maternal health

Stephanie Spencer is the founder and executive director of Urban Baby Beginnings, a community-based organization focused on providing care to families during pregnancy. In this Q&A, Spencer discusses Medicaid expansion, the pandemic’s impact on maternal health, and systemic barriers to care, particularly for Black and Brown families.

Last month, UBB received a $250,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare, which Spencer says will be used to train close to 400 community-based doulas of color over the next two years. “90% of what’s happening [to patients] is in the community … So when we talk about addressing social determinants of health, it gets very difficult to do that when funding is not pivoted to the community.”


4. Forecast warns of 4th wave

Virginia has seen a 79% increase in COVID cases and a 102% increase in hospitalizations over the last two weeks. A forecast from the University of Virginia shows 33 of 35 health districts are currently experiencing “surging” COVID growth. Their modeling also suggests case rates may exceed peaks from last winter in “a few weeks’ time.”

“It doesn’t take a complex mathematical model to see where we may be headed,” the report states. “The Delta variant is highly contagious, vaccination rates fall short of herd immunity levels, and community transmission is high. Common sense can tell you that a new surge is here.” However, it’s important to note that over 97% of recent hospitalizations in Virginia and 98% of recent deaths are among those not fully vaccinated, according to UVA.


5. State hospitals begin limited admissions

Several state-run psychiatric hospitals were forced to halt admissions in July after facing critical staffing and capacity shortages. According to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), staff vacancies at state hospitals increased 50% between April and July, and some state hospitals are operating at direct care staffing levels of 63%.

Some facilities began to reopen last week to limited admissions, though DBHDS Commissioner Alison Land warns that the situation is unstable. “It is incredibly important to note that while this news is encouraging, this crisis continues to be fluid and intense across the Commonwealth.” During the special session, lawmakers allocated $45 million in federal funds for bonuses to direct care staff at state behavioral health facilities, along with $76.9 million for salary adjustments for direct care staff.