Heading into the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stressed the importance of finding ways to support the state’s health care workforce. In this edition of “5 Things We’re Watching,” we bring you an update on some the workforce policy currently under consideration in the legislature.
We also have a Q&A with Sen. David Frockt on behavioral health policy priorities and a conversation with Beacon’s Joe Brumbach on the connection between housing and health care.
State of Reform
1. Q&A: Sen. David Frockt on BH policy
In this Q&A with State of Reform, Sen. David Frockt, chair of the Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee, outlines the priority legislation his committee is focused on this year. Key bills include SB 5736, which would add coverage for partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient services for children under 21 to the Medicaid State Plan by 2024, and SB 5644, which would require UW to create training and educational opportunities for co-response teams.
Another priority bill for Frockt is SB 5894, which would require the HCA to establish a pediatric primary care community health worker (CHC) program to fund the integration of CHCs into clinics that significantly serve kids enrolled in Medicaid. Rather than going forward as a bill, Frockt says this policy will proceed through the budget.
2. A conversation on housing with Beacon
Beacon Health Options has focused significant attention on utilizing housing as a way to improve health outcomes through the Community Behavioral Health Rental Assistance Program. During the 2021 session, legislators appropriated additional funding that allowed for the statewide implementation of CBRA. Beacon is utilizing about $2 million of this funding to offer rental assistance in Pierce County, Southwest Washington, and North Central Washington.
In this piece, Beacon’s Jon Brumbach outlines the benefits and challenges for health care organizations branching into housing. For Beacon, Brumbach says the benefits far outweigh the challenges. “If folks are in behavioral health crisis, or a health crisis of any kind, they’re still not going to focus on maintaining their health if their first priority is where they’re going to sleep at night,” he says.
3. Tension over staffing ratio bill
Debate around proposed hospital staffing legislation is heating up as supporters and opponents weigh in on the policy. The bill, HB 1868, would create minimum staffing levels for specific patient units. The bill is supported by the Washington Safe + Healthy coalition, which commissioned a report that found that higher nurse staffing levels are associated with lower patient mortality, reduced nurse burnout, and fewer adverse patient events.
On Thursday, the Washington State Hospital Association released a statement opposing the bill. WSHA estimates the legislation would require hiring an additional 15,000 registered nurses and certified nursing assistants, which it says would increase health care costs in the state by more than $1 billion. Instead, WSHA urges lawmakers to increase investments in health care education, increase payment rates for the long-term care system, and join the interstate nurse compact. HB 1868 passed in the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.
4. Peer specialist bill clears committee
Another workforce-related bill under discussion, HB 1865, also passed out of Appropriations on Monday. The bill aims to expand the peer workforce by establishing peer specialists and certified peer specialist trainees as new health professions authorized by the state Department of Health.
The legislation directs HCA to develop an 80-hour education course for those looking to be certified, and would establish training requirements for peer specialists practicing as peer crisis responders. During an executive session on HB 1865, bill sponsor Rep. Lauren Davis said the policy would remove some artificial boundaries for people to become reimbursable peer specialists and expand the use of care services.
5. Inslee announces end to masking requirements
Gov. Jay Inslee announced yesterday that outdoor masking requirements will be lifted on Feb. 18, with more announcements due next week. The announcement comes as Oregon and California have announced similar plans to lift mask mandates as omicron cases wane.
Also yesterday, Superintendent Chris Reykdal released a statement announcing his recommendation that the state eliminate the statewide masking mandate for students, and leave that decision up to local health officials. The University of Washington’s IHME said in a recent policy paper that protective measures should not be prolonged longer than needed, as future waves could prompt the need to reinstate them.