A new initiative to provide healthcare workers with more resources and funding was unveiled today in a press conference at the Arkansas State Capitol.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson introduced the initiative, which will inject more than $116 million into rural healthcare hospitals, clinics, and healthcare networks. The initiative, he said, is critical in order to address the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has altered how healthcare is delivered throughout the state.
“This plan will provide improved access to care for Arkansas citizens and will keep the doors of Arkansas’ healthcare providers open and their workforce employed. Health care today cannot be delivered just like it was two weeks ago,” he said. “Hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and residential facilities have to re-engineer their practice patterns to protect the lives of their patients and employees in new ways that are consistent with this public health emergency which is not the same way that we delivered medicine two and three weeks ago.”
According to Arkansas Department of Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie, the proposals outlined by Hutchinson were designed to impact healthcare providers who are struggling to make major pivots in changing their delivery practices because do not have large access to capital. These groups include rural health clinics, physicians with independent practices, and hospitals with 65 beds or less.
“The focus we tried to take in the set of proposals aims at that part of the healthcare industry in our state that is really at this time on the front lines but also struggling because they are being hit by an increase by in what’s coming with COVID-19 but at the same time, their normal business has gone away, and they’re having to completely change the way they do business,” she said. “This is particularly exacerbated out in the rural areas of the state, where they are having to turn on a dime and change what they do,” she said.
Hutchinson’s initiative includes multiple proposal, but Hutchinson highlighted five during the conference.
The first proposal is a capital improvement plan to be used for “environmental modifications.” These modifications can include drive-thru screening areas, isolation areas, or other structures that are needed during the coronavirus crisis.
Hutchinson also proposed increased financial support for workplace safety and training for face-to-face healthcare services. While many services can be performed through telemedicine, Hutchinson noted that physicians and healthcare workers still must treat some patients face-to-face, and they must receive additional training to address this.
These payments would be flexible and tailored to specific needs. For example, Hutchinson said that the payments could be used to add extended hours for a clinic’s normal hours or set aside specific hours for healthy versus sick hours.
The third proposal is an expansion of telemedicine and non-emergency transportation services. While the telemedicine services are designed to be used during the coronavirus pandemic, Gillespie noted that this will be a long-term infrastructure investment for healthcare facilities. The non-emergency transportation services will be used in different ways than normal; Gillespie gave the example that instead of transporting patients to doctor visits, they could deliver prescriptions to them so that patients would not have to get out of their homes.
A major part of Hutchinson’s health initiative will be direct payments to healthcare workers. He said that full-time non-physician healthcare workers will receive an increase of $1,000 per month, or $250 per week, during the public health emergency period. Direct non-physician healthcare workers in a facility with COVID-19 patients will receive $2,000 per month, or $500 per week, during this period.
“We’re going to need these healthcare workers, and they’re at risk so we want to make sure they are incentivized to be there in addition to their public-mindedness,” Hutchinson said. “This will be a direct support for the nurses and will help in the recruitment of nurses to these at-risk facilities.”
Foster care parents will also be receiving an additional $500 per month during the coronavirus crisis. There will also be payments to facilities that are treating a disproportionate number of COVID-19 patients.
In total, the proposals are currently adding up to more than $116 million. According to Hutchinson, the environmental modifications would cost $15 million, modifications for community providers would cost $16 million, workforce training and telemedicine expansion would cost $19 million, a homelessness initiative would cost $5 million, cluster payments for facilities would cost $3 million, and healthcare payments would cost $55 million.
“I believe that all these measures are justified and needed at this time,” he said.
Hutchinson estimates that the federal government will cover a majority of the costs for the healthcare initiatives. He estimates that the state’s cost for the proposals will be approximately $25 million, which he said will not be drawn from general revenue.