04 April 2022

Capitol Update: Strengthening Our Rural Healthcare System

Recently, the Baylor College of Medicine announced a partnership with St. Luke’s Health — Memorial Hospital in Lufkin to establish the Rural Resident Physician Grant Program, which incentivizes prospective physicians to complete their residency in rural areas. As the author of the bill that created this program, I’m thrilled to see this partnership come to fruition to help expand access to healthcare in rural East Texas. While this is just the first step in the effort to increase access to rural healthcare, this program is a meaningful first step that will have a generational impact in our community.

With that, we’ll continue on the topic of healthcare and dive back into our examination of the recently released interim charges. . .

House Interim Charge: Public Health

The House Committee on Public Health has jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to the protection of public health, including the practice of medicine and dentistry, mental health and the prevention and treatment of mental illness, and other allied health services. The Committee also has jurisdiction over two dozen state agencies, such as the Health and Human Services Commission (HHS), the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the Texas Board of Nursing, just to name a few. Comprised of eleven members, the Committee will spend time over the interim monitoring the implementation of legislation passed in the 87th Legislature as well as studying current telemedicine trends, assessing ongoing challenges in the rural health care system, and evaluating fentanyl-related overdoses.

Along with monitoring many agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction, members have been tasked to evaluate HB 4, which addresses the delivery of health care services under public benefit programs by using telecommunication or information technology. As a joint author of this legislation, I was pleased to play a role in crafting this legislation in concert with the legislation I authored to expand broadband access across the state. With expanded access to reliable internet, HB 4 opens the door for individuals to access medical assistance programs, child health plans, public health services and expertise where it may not exist, especially in rural and underserved areas.

The Committee has also been charged with assessing the ongoing challenges and examining existing resources to strengthen the state’s rural healthcare system. Recently, the Federal government authorized the creation of a Rural Emergency Hospital (REH) provider type. An REH status would enable small rural hospitals to sustain access to vital health care services for their patients.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is lethal in very small amounts, is the leading cause of death for Americans age 18 to 45. The Legislature has taken measures to enhance criminal penalties for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl, but further action is needed. The Committee will study fentanyl-related overdoses and evaluate existing data to make recommendations to improve mitigation strategies. Fentanyl has tragically taken the lives of young Americans at almost twice the rate of COVID-19, and I’m pleased to know that the Public Health Committee will be examining how to mitigate the fentanyl crisis.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if we can help you in any way. My district office may be reached at (936) 634-2762. Additionally, I welcome you to follow along on my Official Facebook Page, where I will be posting regular updates on what’s happening in your State Capitol and sharing information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

Leave a Reply