As 2021 winds down and we continue to face COVID-19 head long, the Advocacy Team at IHA is planning its advocacy agenda and strategy for the 2022 legislative session.
2022 promises to be an eventful year. Not that 2021 wasn’t with the resignation of former Governor Andrew Cuomo amid allegations of sexual misconduct, followed by the elevation of now-Governor Kathy Hochul, New York’s first female governor.
2022 is an election year for all statewide elected officials and for the entire legislature. Already there are several declared candidates in the gubernatorial race to challenge Governor Hochul in June’s primary. Among them are Attorney General Tish James, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, NYC Public Advocate Jumanne Williams and others continue to declare as the days pass.
A.G. James declaring her intentions to run for Governor has caused its own domino effect with several candidates declaring their own intentions to replace James in the run for New York’s Attorney General. Among those candidates are several state legislators and federal prosecutors.
All of this activity has begun and will continue to build to a full head of steam in the lead up to Tuesday, June 21, 2022, New York’s relatively new primary date. This means that there will be a great deal of political posturing by all candidates, especially for those involved with the state legislative session and budget process, as those candidates will be eager to please all voters to win the primary and go on to represent their party in November’s general election.
Advocacy agenda for 2022
Against this political backdrop IHA has continued its advocacy work and prepares for the coming state legislative session and the next session of Congress. IHA is finalizing its advocacy agenda for 2022.
I can report that we will be continuing work to address workforce issues and offer some staffing solutions. IHA is calling for the State to make a significant investment in health care staffing recruitment and retention. IHA will also continue to speak in favor of the Department of Health’s 1115 Waiver Concept paper that proposes, if approved by CMS, to invest $17 billion in several initiatives, but in particular to continue funding workforce investment organizations (WIOs). IHA has the only statewide WIO and is well-equipped to continue this work. More importantly IHA is urging that WIO’s be allowed to expand from their current and important focus on long term care training and recruitment and retention to include acute care and behavioral care training and recruitment and retention.
Regardless of whether CMS approves this 1115 Waiver, IHA will continue to make the case that the state needs to make a significant investment in health care recruitment and retention, especially for providers in Upstate and Rural New York.
IHA will also focus its priorities on eliminating the Medicaid Global Cap, increasing Medicaid rates, as well as the State providing a fiscal mechanism for a rural rate add-on and/or a directed payment process that will ensure Upstate and rural hospitals are provided adequate financial resources and relief to sustain operations and successfully move beyond the pandemic.
Staffing Ratios and Staffing Committees
Since long before these new staffing mandates were passed into law a few short months ago, IHA has raised the alarm that these mandates will have an unduly negative impact on Upstate and rural hospitals. Since that time IHA has met with several members of the legislature, legislative staff, DOH staff and the Governor’s staff urging that the implementation of these mandates and regulations be delayed, because of the impact that the pandemic is having on staff recruitment and retention.
Not only have we written to and met directly with policymakers on these issues, IHA has also launched a media strategy that resulted in several news stories covering this issue across the state on broadcast news, in print media, on news accumulation sites and on social media.
IHA will continue to raise these issues as the regulatory process carries forth.
IHA has been sounding the alarm about the severe healthcare workforce shortage being experienced by Upstate New York hospitals for years. This was the case before COVID-19 and vaccine mandates. These two factors have only exacerbated Upstate hospitals’ workforce issues.
Our hospitals and healthcare systems are currently experiencing unprecedented levels of position vacancies, particularly in patient-facing roles. The staggering number of vacancies has now reached a crisis level in many areas of Upstate New York.
Additionally, the State’s vaccine mandate enacted in September has compounded workforce shortages in hospitals. To be clear, IHA is in full support of vaccination. Unfortunately, despite tremendous education and outreach efforts promoting vaccination, there are a large number of patient-facing hospital employees throughout Upstate New York hospitals who remain unvaccinated. If vaccine refusal for these hospital employees continues unabated without flexibility, elimination of services will begin.
IHA continues to push for DOH and the Governor to provide some flexibility in this mandate. In the face of this advocacy DOH released guidance requiring that staff granted a religious exemption from vaccination either be given a medical exemption or have at least a first dose of vaccine by November 22.
IHA has explained that this will result in a great many hospitals losing critical staff. However, the Hochul Administration continues to tout the effectiveness of the vaccine mandate without acknowledging the facts being presented.
In addition, litigation continues to play out which will determine whether the State has the authority to issue such a mandate.
New State Health Commissioner
As Governor Hochul took control of the levers of state government she announced that she would review the leaders across state government to determine who should remain in service and who should be replaced. During this time period, Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Howard Zucker announced his resignation. Shortly thereafter, Governor Hochul announced the appointment of Dr. Mary Bassett as the State’s new Health Commissioner, effective December 1.
- Dr. Bassett currently serves as director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights in the department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
- She has previously served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she led the department’s response to Ebola, Legionnaires’ disease and other disease outbreaks.
With the legislature reconvening in a few short weeks, kicking off what is sure to be a memorable session, IHA is pleased to have added Kevin Kerwin as its new Deputy Vice President of Advocacy and Government relations. Kevin joins IHA after serving in a similar role for another association focused on the home care sector. Prior to that Kevin served for almost 13 years in various roles with the New York State Bar Association, including Associate Director of Government Relations and Deputy General Counsel. IHA is also fortunate to have added Grace Casscles to its Advocacy Team. Grace joined the IHA WIO in March of 2021, and has already made her mark on the organization. She has worked jointly with IHA members for the last 9 months to facilitate training and retention strategies. The advocacy team will work closely with the IHA Communications Team in developing targeted strategies to promote IHA priorities with policy makers and the press.
The IHA team is poised to continue to provide the focused and uniform voice of Upstate New York’s Hospitals and Health Systems.