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South Florida Hospital News: Legislative Session Is an Opportunity To Prioritize Florida’s Hospitals

3/7/2023 9:33:09 PM

This article first appeared as a column in the March issue of South Florida Hospital News

By Mary Mayhew, FHA President and CEO

When the Florida legislature officially gavels in on March 7, it will have just under two months to pass a state budget. While the budget is the only must-pass item, lawmakers also will debate numerous other proposals governing everything from the environment and education to health care and transportation.

This session is vitally important for Florida hospitals. After three years of the pandemic and resulting economic losses and workforce shortages, hospitals need relief and support.

Fortunately, the state is in a position of economic strength. With robust economic growth, Florida ended 2022 with a budget surplus of $21.8 billion, the highest ever. Reserves exceed $15 billion.

Investing in our state’s hospitals – the bedrock of the health care system – must be a priority. Florida residents deserve strong hospitals. Florida communities need them. And the state’s economy depends on them. Hospitals are a key factor in Florida’s economic success story. Florida hospitals had an annual economic output contribution of $177.8 billion in 2021, employing more than 322,000 Floridians with a total payroll of more than $28 billion. Each hospital job supports 1.73 additional jobs in the state, and every $1 spent by a hospital supports $1.25 in additional business activity.

There’s a saying in health care attributed to Sister Irene Kraus, CEO of the Daughters of Charity National Healthcare System, “No margin. No mission.” It means that without a positive financial margin, hospitals cannot do the work for which every Floridian relies on them. That sentiment can be extended to the relationship between hospitals and the state economy. Florida’s economy would not be the envy of the nation without the contribution, output, and investments of its hospitals.

Governor DeSantis’ proposed budget, released last month, recognizes this relationship. His budget proposes no Medicaid payment cuts to hospitals, maintains nurse workforce funding secured during the last legislative session, and invests in maternal and mental health programs and services – all priorities for Florida hospitals. Lawmakers would do well to follow this health care- and economy-friendly roadmap and prioritize similar funding and investments.

In addition to protecting funding, improving access to timely, community-based behavioral health care and growing and retaining the health care workforce are two of Florida hospitals’ biggest challenges and priorities. The state faces a shortage of nearly 60,000 nurses by 2035. Too many health care workers are experiencing violence at work. A growing number of Floridians of all ages are experiencing behavioral health crises and lack of access to needed care outside of hospitals’ emergency departments. Solving these challenges requires long-term policy investment.

This session, Florida hospitals will advocate for:

  • Continuing nurse education and workforce funding.
  • Strengthening criminal penalties against perpetrators of violence against health care workers, no matter where in the hospital they work.
  • Funding to increase the number of psychiatric beds for those who are involuntarily admitted for treatment.
  • Holding health plan partners accountable for contract standards governing payment, care authorizations, and network inclusion.
  • Building on existing community-based mental health programs, such as Community Action Teams, to help more Floridians get care they need more quickly.

Legislative sessions are always about choices. What lawmakers choose to fund, change, or require reflects their choices and priorities. It’s difficult to imagine a greater priority than health care and the institutions and individuals who work in them caring for all of us.

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