Washington lawmakers on both sides of the aisle discussed some important health-related policy priorities and issues to pursue during the 2022 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference.
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The conference included two Policy Leadership Panels. Rep. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver) and Rob Chase (R-Liberty Lake) represented the Republican body, while Rep. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle) and Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) represented the Democratic body.
Discussing some Democratic priorities for the 2023 legislative session, Macri said long-term care, behavioral health and opioid/substance use will be three key areas of focus. She works professionally in the behavioral health field at a non-profit organization and spoke about ways to recruit more staff into this field.
“Working in behavioral medicine is a career ladder,” Macri said. “We talk a lot about loan forgiveness and that’s really a key-binding strategy. But we don’t have enough people who have the qualifications, who now have the training. We must help develop people. Some of this will happen through higher education. Much of this will happen in the workplace with a mix of education and training. How do we bring new models to advance people in their careers and do we have the right credentials?”
Macri has assisted in much crisis response work related to the nationwide implementation of the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
“The nonprofit I work for does much of the adult mobile crisis response work in the King County area,” Macri said. “The credentials we have in behavioral health may not perfectly match the credentials that serve us best in a crisis response system. So if we’re trying to expand this system, what are the certifications and credentials, what are the facility license types that we need? Just getting creative to respond to current needs will be part of the conversation we will have.”
Riccelli said he will focus on the state’s behavioral and oral health workforce shortages.
“I will continue to be an advocate for oral health,” Riccelli said. “I think too often that’s left out of the equation. It gets people into emergency rooms, just like a lot of other things. I was excited to hear that the Department of Health and the [Health Care Authority] regard [hiring] a dental director. They believe it could free up some federal funding as well. That’s great. I sponsored a bill To look at a dental director 3 or 4 years ago. I think it’s important to focus on that. I still believe that in some ways oral health is where behavioral health was maybe 5 or 6 years ago because we are talking about treating the whole person.”
Macri said it was also likely that abortion access laws would be introduced.
“We did a lot of analysis on the impact of access to care for patients,” Macri said. “We are seeing an increase in out-of-state patients seeking care here in Washington state. We anticipate some guidance in both… protections we can put in place for providers and patients, and patient access. It was a priority.”
Harris said that the health care workforce shortage and the state’s mental health will be two key GOP priorities for the 2023 legislative session.
“There is a shortage of all workers right now,” Harris said. “We compete in healthcare like everyone else. I think the hot topic next year will still be mental health. Mental health will continue to be an important part of the legislation for the next session.”
Chase said mental health will be a priority for him too. He gained a lot of experience in this field after adopting a couple of foster children as I had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
“It’s been a roller coaster, but he now works at Enterprise Rent-A-Car,” Chase said. “He’s a detailer; He loves to. He married. It’s a success story. We must help the helpless. These people are helpless. It’s not fair for them.”
Harris was asked if he supported the possibility of Washington joining Nursing certificate compact.
“I think the Nurse Compact is a barrier to attracting nurses to our state,” Harris said. “It’s an issue where people control their environment and I kind of understand that. However if we do have shortages I would hope that we start easing this a bit because I think we need more nurses. We need more CNAs. We need more of everything.”