The WHA Board of Directors met virtually June 4, discussing the latest information related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing effects on the state’s hospitals and health systems. Among other agenda items, the Board approved revisions to the WHA 2020 Goals to reflect pandemic-related adjustments, received a detailed summary of WHA’s wide-ranging COVID-19 activities with policymakers, and discussed the challenges state government will face in the upcoming 2021-23 biennial state budget.
2020 Goals Revisions
COVID-19 has required adjustments to WHA’s goals for 2020, both in adding new goals to reflect the current pandemic environment and modifying others. One newly-created goal for 2020 includes WHA developing a white paper of lessons learned during the pandemic that policymakers can use to enhance health care delivery access and efficiency. Other new goals centered around making permanent certain regulatory flexibilities implemented due to COVID-19 health care needs.
The modified goals reflect Wisconsin health care moving into a new phase of the pandemic.
“COVID has required most of our focus for the last few months, but like our member hospitals we are increasingly phasing back into our normal operations and priorities,” WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding said. “We’re moving forward with one eye on COVID and another on resuming normal activities.”
The Board unanimously approved the revised goals.
WHA staff shared the latest information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the most recent clinical trends. Many data points are trending in a positive direction, including the hospitalization rate for those who test positive for the virus, supply of ICU beds and ventilators, and the overall doubling rate of COVID-19 growth.
WHA Chief Medical Officer Mark Kaufman, MD noted that these trends combined with the opportunity for more outdoor activities during the summer can have a strong impact on reducing transmission. Dr. Kaufman cautioned that this would not necessarily signal an end to the pandemic, however, as the return to cooler weather in the fall could once again increase the possibility of further spread.
COVID-19 testing resources and processes continue as important and challenging issues for the state’s hospitals and health systems, especially as the state pursues its aggressive plan of testing expansion. The Board discussed WHA’s efforts to work with the state on seeking out additional testing supplies and improving coordination between the state, local governments, public health agencies and hospitals.
The Board also received an update on the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee’s (SDMAC) activity. Dr. Kaufman, a member of SDMAC, provided a summary of activities thus far, including the SDMAC’s growing interest and spread into resource allocation, and board members shared their own involvement in other state-organized groups related to the pandemic.
Preparing for the next biennial state budget
The Board discussed the challenges state government will likely face in the upcoming 2021-23 biennial state budget, which Governor Tony Evers’ administration will begin crafting in earnest later this summer. Public statements from Governor Evers and revenue reports from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau have shown that the short-term economic environment will be very challenging, with a combination of an estimated $2 billion shortfall in state revenue, continued double-digit unemployment and large increases in the state’s Medicaid population creating significant headwinds for all state funding.
WHA hospital leaders have already helped start conversations with policymakers about the COVID-19 crisis’ effects on health care by participating in 19 WHA-organized virtual roundtables with federal and state elected officials. WHA staff noted that this early engagement not only helps address misunderstandings about why certain health care services were delayed for many people, but also informs elected officials about the major challenges health care faces due to reacting to the crisis and what government can do to help hospitals and systems take care of their patients.
The next regular WHA Board meeting is scheduled for October.