Northam rejects hospital’s calls for more flexibility amid staff shortage concerns

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)–Virginia hospitals are asking the state for more flexibility to handle coronavirus hospitalizations but Gov. Ralph Northam is so far rejecting their pleas. 

Earlier in the pandemic, various executive orders from Northam removed regulatory barriers and made it easier for struggling providers to quickly increase resources. Those orders have since expired but, as concerns over staff and bed shortages continue, providers want those options back. 

In an interview on Thursday, Northam said those actions would require another state of emergency declaration.

“We’re looking at all of the things we can do to help our hospitals but a state of emergency right now is not one of them,” Northam said. “It is very difficult to declare a state of emergency that just affects hospitals. It would impact a lot of other things like voting.” 

In a letter dated Aug. 19, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association asked Northam’s Administration to reinstate several executive orders. At the time, hospitalizations driven by the delta variant were on an upward trajectory. Some hospital systems have had to take steps to relieve the pressure like restricting visitation and suspending elective surgeries. 

Now, hospitalizations are starting to come down but VHHA Spokesperson Julian Walker said state action is still needed. 

“We have many members that are struggling right now. I don’t think there is any secret about that. That’s due to the COVID surge, due to the fact that many people put off healthcare services during the pandemic and some of those people are now coming back out of the woodwork,” Walker said. 

In the letter, providers ask Northam to reinstate waivers that would allow sudden increases in licensed bed capacity, remove regulatory barriers preventing the hiring of staff with out-of-state licenses, expand telehealth flexibility and restore liability protections. 

The Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, which represents emergency physicians statewide, echoed those calls in a statement on Thursday. 

“Though current ER volumes will stabilize, the future is unclear. Emergency physicians and teams are tired and understaffed. We require protections and practice flexibility to ensure quality care for our patients, our communities, our families, and ourselves. We ask Governor Northam to reinstate these protections for hospitals, health systems, and the people entrusted to deliver care.”

Virginia College of Emergency Physicians

Northam acknowledged that staff burnout is a big contributor to worker shortages in healthcare but he still didn’t budge on the request.

“The answer right now is not necessarily another state of emergency. The answer is encouraging those that haven’t been vaccinated to roll up their sleeves and get a shot. That’s the answer to the bed crisis and the staffing crisis in our hospitals,” Northam said. 

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