New public health lab, electronic health records system, among Virginia ARPA funding proposals

On August 2, the General Assembly will convene a special session to determine the allocations of $4.3 billion in relief funds the Commonwealth will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). 

 

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Gov. Ralph Northam and state legislators previously stated the Commonwealth should use the funding to get ahead in investing in public health and expanding broadband, since Virginia is currently benefiting from both a record-breaking state revenue surplus and falling unemployment rates

Here are a few health care projects that could receive funding during the special session: 

  • $275 million for a new public health lab. The Virginia Department of General Services (DGS) proposed moving the facility from its aging Richmond site to Petersburg’s Central State Hospital campus to expand its public virus testing capabilities. DGS detailed its rationale for the new lab:

    “The continually expanding demand for diagnostic and public health testing have exceeded the existing facility’s capacity in both the administrative and the laboratory testing areas and there is a critical need for additional laboratory space to ensure operational and high complexity laboratory testing services in support of the Commonwealth’s existing needs are met and to ensure the ability to expand testing capabilities and capacity in response to the next public health crisis.”

  • $700 million to achieve universal broadband by 2024. With the ARPA funds, the Commonwealth could provide approximately 233,500 unserved locations with broadband grants, according to Northam’s administration. Expanding state broadband is key to the Department of Health (VDH)’s goal of implementing an electronic records system, says VDH director of Public Health Planning and Evaluation John Ringer. According to Ringer, many local health departments still rely on paper records, and an electronic system would have drastically changed the state’s response at the start of the pandemic.

“We have a lot of local health departments where the internet service is very slow. It doesn’t matter if we procure an electronic health records system if they can’t run it, because their internet is so slow. I think increasing the broadband rate at those facilities as part of this larger statewide initiative will make a big difference.”

  • $335.5 million to address staffing shortages at state mental hospitals. The Commonwealth is in the midst of a critical behavioral health professional shortage, according to statements from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). A majority of the spending would go towards salary increases for frontline essential workers to provide competition against private behavioral health facilities.

  • $18 million for family and community health clinics. Grants will allow community colleges to implement health clinics and childcare services for enrolled students, staff and community members. In the proposal, partnership with local health and child care providers was encouraged. 

One notable project Ringer says the VDH will push for at next year’s regular session is an additional $5.5 million to bolster the state emergency fund. The state’s current contract, which lasts until June 2022, invested $10 million in CARES Act funds to assist operations between hospitals, social services, and other health organizations.

The Virginia Department of Planning and Budget (DPB) posted a full list of ARPA funding requests here