State Legislature 2021: That’s a Wrap
Before I get started today, I want to share how excited I was to hear that we were named Best Hospital by the readers of the Jackson Free Press for the second time in three years! What a great thing to hear during the convergence of Hospital Week, Nurses Week and our own Employee Appreciation Week celebrations. Thank you to every faculty, staff, student and volunteer and to our amazing clinical leadership teams. You all play a part in creating such a special and caring health care home for the hundreds of thousands of patients who pass through our hospitals and clinics each year.
Now, on to today’s topic.
The Mississippi State Legislature ended its 2021 regular session a little more than a month ago on April 1. When it comes to the Legislature, I tend to subscribe to the Forrest Gump school of thought, that each session is a bit like a box of chocolates: You never quite know what you’re going to get.
You can have high aspirations that go nowhere. You can be ambushed by a measure that was not even on your radar. Or you can watch in wonder as all the stars align and you accomplish something that will make a real difference for your organization. In my nearly 12 years in senior leadership at UMMC, I have experienced all of these.
Compared to last year’s session, which was the furthest thing from normal owing to the pandemic, the 2021 legislative session seemed to get back to something closer to business as usual. There was more predictability during this term, which I ascribe to the steady hand of leadership emanating from Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.
I think it also can be said that these two leaders, as well as other members of the Legislature and senior state officials, are keenly aware of the role UMMC has played in helping the state prepare for and cope with the pandemic during the last 16 months. Indeed, I don’t know of any academic medical center(s) that has been more integral to its state’s pandemic response than UMMC has been in Mississippi. I’m awfully proud of that.
Those are some of the factors that, I believe, have contributed to a positive legislative session for UMMC this spring.
A broad-brush list of highlights includes:
- An increase in institutional funding of $7.6 million for a total FY22 funding level of $160.9 million. This is especially significant because it reverses a trend of cuts to our main appropriation during the last few years. Included in this increase are the following:
- $3.7 million in support for the Asylum Hill project, a multi-institutional effort that, while providing a dignified final resting place for residents of the state asylum who were buried on the northeast corner of campus, will also create a resource for multidisciplinary research and education.
- Increase in support for The MIND Center and the UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute, restoring them to their original annual funding levels of $3 million and $5 million, respectively.
- An additional $1.26 million in capital expense funds for improvements to campus infrastructure.
- Level funding for important programs such as the Office of Mississippi Physician Workforce, the Mississippi Rural Scholars Program and the Child Safe Center, among others.
- $8 million in bond support for capital improvements and renovations.
Other items of note from this year’s session include:
- Passage of a three-year Medicaid technical amendments package that will streamline credentialing, speed prior authorization and expedite appeals, generally strengthening oversight of the managed care organizations contracting with the state.
- Extension of the Harper Grace Act, which allows UMMC to provide high-quality CBD oil treatments to pediatric patients in Mississippi suffering from a severe form of epilepsy.
That’s a pretty good outcome of the state legislative session.
As far as federal initiatives, we continue to work with our Congressional delegation and the Biden Administration to identify and respond to opportunities for support – whether for research, COVID-19 relief or infrastructure. Some of these funds may come directly through established federal channels, while some will likely need to be allocated by the Legislature. We continue to advocate for strong federal support for the National Institutes of Health, graduate medical education and the myriad federal grants that support UMMC’s areas of research focus. And we are urging the powers that be to enact policy that will make permanent the flexibilities and expanded insurance coverage for telehealth that have been so instrumental in connecting people to health services during the pandemic. This is the way of the future!
I want to give a “shout out” to Kristy Simms, who’s been serving as our executive director of external affairs (which serves as our primary state and federal government relations position) for just about a year, following a much longer stint in the federal-only liason role. In a job I would liken to an air traffic controller, Kristy has been masterful at keeping track of all of our initiatives while remaining vigilant for the occasional “bogey” that enters our airspace from time to time.
I also want to express my gratitude to our elected leaders. I’ve been in this job a little more than six years and, like my predecessors, have worked hard to help them understand what a valuable – I would even argue indispensable – resource UMMC is to the state of Mississippi. Apart from the health professions education, biomedical research and advanced health care services we provide to our citizens, it would be hard to find a better investment of state dollars – which represent less than one-tenth of our overall budget. Based on a study we commissioned in 2020, every dollar the state invests in UMMC leverages a whopping $17 in economic impact. That’s solid ROI.
Later this month in lieu of a written VC Notes, our relationship with our state government will be featured during my second video coffee talk, this time with Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. Should be a fun and informative discussion.
Our biggest supporters in government get it – UMMC delivers a whole lot of bang for the buck. All in service to our quest for A Healthier Mississippi.