Legislative Update 8/31/2021: Mental Health, Hospital Staffing, Elective Surgeries, and Redistricting

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This is the legislative update for August 31, 2021. View all updates here.



The August 31, 2021 legislative update includes highlights from both federal and state legislatures.

Federal Updates

In Congress

The state and country are facing extremely difficult workforce and bed challenges coupled with a demanding respiratory season, the impact of the Delta variant on youth, and a growing mental health crisis. As one of 34 free-standing independent pediatric hospitals in the country, Children’s Omaha is at the forefront with Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) advocating

The pediatric safety-net hospitals (Translation: medical centers in the US that provide care to individuals regardless of insurance status) are threatened in unprecedented ways, requiring us to stay consistent with our messaging on how to keep children safe together.

Mental Health

As we continue to fight to move the needle on mental health for children, we are proactively speaking with our Nebraska delegation about two bills to bolster children’s access to mental health services. These are based on proposals included in Strengthening Kids’ Mental Health Now.

The bills include:

  • The Children’s Mental Health Infrastructure Act of 2021 (H.R. 4943), which would provide $2 billion a year for five years for grants to children’s hospitals for increasing their capacity to provide pediatric mental health services, including building new sites of care, converting existing space for psychiatric use and other uses.
  • The Helping Kids Cope Act of 2021 (H.R.4944), which would provide $500 million a year for five years to support grants to children’s hospitals and other providers for activities to support pediatric behavioral health care integration and coordination to meet local community needs.
    • It would also provide $100 million annually for five years for grants to children’s hospitals and other providers to support workforce training for a range of pediatric behavioral health professionals.

Meanwhile, on August 27, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded grant funding to support the mental health of children and youth as they head back to school.

The first-year awards for the two programs total $74.2 million:

  • SAMHSA awarded 17 grantees Project AWARE funding to raise awareness of mental health issues for youth, connect students to mental health services, and train school personnel. A portion of this award is Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act funding.
  • Additionally, SAMHSA awarded 12 grantees funding through the Children’s Mental Health Initiative to support coordinated treatment for youth with serious emotional disturbances.

Program funding supports implementation, expansion, and integration of a system-of-care approach, creating sustainable infrastructure across an array of entities to deliver community-based services.

State Updates

Hospital Staffing Emergency

Last week, Governor Pete Ricketts declared Nebraska in a hospital staffing emergency. Effective Monday, August 30, the Executive Order (EO) 21-12 issued by the Governor will seek to loosen all provider licensure capabilities to increase workforce capacity throughout the state.

Among the provisions in the EO:

  • Temporarily suspend provider licensing credentialing requirements
  • Waive licensure renewal requirements for retired professionals
  • Defer continuing education requirements
  • Ease the requirement for test scores before gaining a license as a new graduate
  • Expand supervision ratios

This EO will expire December 31, 2021.

Elective Surgeries

On Monday, August 30, a new directed health measure (DHM) will take effect limiting elective surgeries in all Nebraska hospitals.

The DHM suspends inpatient Class D and Class E elective surgeries for all Acute Care, Critical Care, and Children’s Hospitals. These are elective surgeries — such as joint replacements, hernia repairs, hysterectomies, bariatric procedures, minor back surgeries, and elective heart valve repair and replacement surgeries — that can wait four weeks or longer without substantially changing a patient’s outcome.

While some hospitals have already taken this step, the DHM extends it as a requirement for all hospitals in Nebraska.

The DHM takes effect on August 30, 2021 and will remain in force through September 30, 2021 unless renewed.

Redistricting

On August 30, the Governor issued a proclamation calling senators back to Lincoln for a special legislative session on September 13. The purpose of the session is to tackle the contentious process of redistricting legislative and congressional districts across the state.

This is the first time in a decade for state senators to see a special session. However, they will be limited to discussing redistricting, despite the number of issues available for debate. According to the Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers, the Legislature will need to have a final bill (map of outlined territories) on the Governor’s desk by September 24 should they need to override any veto.

Foster Care

On Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Suzanne Haney will testify before the St. Francis Oversight Committee (HHS Committee), outlining concerns for children in the foster care system — specifically in the eastern service area of the state. The hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. and can be streamed live at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

(Sources: CHA, Congress.gov, Nebraska Legislature, Governor Pete Ricketts, World Herald)

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