VC Notes - A weekly word from Dr. LouAnn Woodward
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Friday, January 14, 2022

Policy Matters

Good morning.

First off today, I want to express my deepest appreciation to everyone who has stepped up in any way during this recent COVID-19 surge. Over a three-week span, the number of Mississippians in our care infected with coronavirus grew nearly ten-fold! But as has been the case time and again, you’ve done anything and everything to provide the best and most compassionate care possible to anyone who enters a UMMC facility needing medical attention. Thank you. 

We are hopeful that models predicting that the peak of this surge will be soon are correct, but we’ll stay prepared for a rebound. It’s in our best interest to encourage as many of our friends and family as possible to get vaccinated. Though some fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized during this surge, but data still overwhelmingly show that illness is more severe in those who are unvaccinated. Getting vaccinated still matters. Hospitals across the state need to repair damage done throughout this pandemic – and that will take time and commitment.

My leadership team and I have been preparing for the start of the 2022 Mississippi Legislative Session, which kicked off on Jan. 4. This date is one that is circled every year because of how important it is to the Medical Center and nearly everything we do, and I want to give you a few examples to put it in context.

During the session, representatives and senators from all 82 counties are in Jackson to advocate for and represent constituents from their respective districts. This is a vital opportunity for us to connect with these elected leaders and share how the Medical Center is impacting the people who voted them into office. The three months the Legislature is in session is our best opportunity to engage with these leaders – and relationships matter.

We value engagement with officials at all levels of state government, like recently hosting Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann for a Coffee Talk. And last May, I was able to do the same with Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. These opportunities for relationship building are priceless.

VC_Jan_14_Simms_and_SparksThe chief reason the session is important to us is because of the generous financial support we receive annually from the Legislature. Each year, we focus on securing adequate funding to support the schools on the UMMC campus. Historically, the Legislature has helped to support our education mission and we anticipate this to continue for the next fiscal year. 

This year, there’s a new opportunity for additional funding beyond appropriations. The Legislature must decide how to disburse more than $4 billion in one-time COVID-related federal funds, and I believe the Medical Center’s overall mission to improve the health and well-being of Mississippians is perfectly aligned with the requirements for this spending.

For instance, the state received $1.8 billion in American Rescue Plan Act federal funds, ARPA for short, which will allow Mississippi to make long-term investments in public health infrastructure, workforce development and other areas that can drive economic growth. From our standpoint, the Medical Center is connected to each of those areas. We hope that the legislators will recognize the myriad ways that investing in UMMC can support our state’s only academic medical center in providing care, education and research to improve the health of our state.

In addition to those federal funds, the Legislature will consider how to spend the over $2 billion in a state budget surplus. Like the ARPA funds, this pot of money is considered one-time funds and won’t be spent on recurring-costs projects. Again, we believe appropriating some of this money to support UMMC’s capital investment needs would have an immensely positive impact. A healthy, growing UMMC is good for the entire state.

Each year, along with our education-mission appropriation, there are other issues for which we advocate. A few examples for this current session are consideration of the expansion of how telehealth is implemented in Mississippi, health insurance reform, adjustments in Medicaid reimbursement rates and health care workforce retention measures that could provide support for nurses, respiratory therapists and other front-line workers.

In recent years, we have seen the benefits of robust engagement with lawmakers. We worked with the Legislature to make technical changes to the Medicaid laws to streamline processes, create new payment models and better serve patients and families. We received significant assistance in getting the Health Care Collaboration Act passed that allows us to engage in business ventures with external partners in order to strengthen UMMC and our state’s health care services. 

We recently gained a new member of the government affairs team who will advise UMMC on policy and lead our advocacy efforts downtown. Anna Moak Sparks is our new liaison for state government affairs and reports to Kristy Simms, executive director of external affairs, who also leads our engagement with Mississippi’s federal delegation. Anna has broad experience working in state government and I am pleased that she has come on board to lead our efforts in the state Capitol.

On the federal side, thanks to the strong leadership of the Mississippi delegation in Washington, D.C., recent legislation has been filed to make permanent the flexibilities for telehealth allowed during the pandemic and this bill has broad, bipartisan support. We have a long history of positive and strong relationships with the Mississippi delegation in our nation’s capital and are grateful for their leadership.

As Mississippi’s only academic medical center and largest safety net hospital, we have a key role as a health care leader for all Mississippians. To continue fulfilling that role, it’s vital we establish and maintain active positive relationships with our state and federal elected officials. We need them to help us sustain and grow and they need us to help in any way we can to care for the people whom they represent. The men and women in the state and nation’s capitals are valuable partners in our goal of A Healthier Mississippi.

Signed, Lou Ann Woodward, M.D.

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