Gov. Ralph Northam says the state stands ready to supply protective equipment to nursing homes and clinics that need it, but only after they have “exhausted” private supply chains.
As state officials report that Virginia’s hospitals have adequate supplies to treat COVID-19 patients, the spotlight has turned to nursing homes, urgent care clinics and other health care settings.
A dashboard published by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association said Wednesday that at least 21 nursing homes — where the state has seen the deadliest outbreaks — lack an adequate supply of gowns and 10 did not have access to N-95 masks. In comparison, the website showed no hospitals in need of additional personal protective equipment in the next 72 hours.
Northam said Wednesday that the state’s priority for its public stockpile is “to support the state COVID-19 response and testing.” But, Northam said, the state stands ready to help any health care setting that might be working with COVID-19 patients.
“Health care providers should exhaust private supply chains before requesting state assistance. At the same time, we’ve been clear that no one treating COVID-19 patients, or supporting COVID-19-related activities like testing, should go without [personal protective equipment].”
Northam said the Department of General Services is performing “rapid reviews” of vendors selling COVID-19 supplies and services to ease access to facilities in need.
Northam said the state has so far distributed 794,000 N-95 respirators, 1.3 million surgical masks, 3 million gloves, 285,000 gowns, 427,000 face shields, and 24,000 containers of hand sanitizer.
Also Wednesday, Northam announced he would veto legislation from the regular General Assembly session that would have let professional associations work with insurance companies to purchase health insurance plans.
The legislation would have allowed groups of more than 50 people to negotiate plans for their group, circumventing the individual health insurance marketplace set up for people not covered through their employer.
The legislation was backed by Virginia Realtors, a trade group. Many of its members are self-employed and lack employer health insurance.
“Those bills would address health insurance cost concerns for target segments of the population, but in doing so, would increase the cost of insurance for sick Virginians in the marketplace,” Northam said.
The measures — Senate Bill 235, sponsored by Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax; House Bill 735, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery; and Senate Bill 861, sponsored by Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg — cleared the legislature with broad, bipartisan support. Northam had sought to amend the bills, adding a re-enactment clause that would have required lawmakers to pass the measures again next year. The General Assembly rejected the amendments during its veto session in April. Northam faced a Friday night deadline to sign or veto the measures.
In an opinion column last month, Hurst urged fellow lawmakers to reject Northam’s proposed delay.
“Many of these hard-working Virginians go without health care coverage because of the high cost of health plans sold in Virginia’s insurance markets,” Hurst wrote in a piece published by The Roanoke Times.
Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber, lamented Northam’s veto of Mason’s Senate Bill 861, which would have allowed small businesses to join in “benefits consortiums,” pools that could lower rates.
“At a time when small businesses face extraordinary obstacles and are in dire need of additional resources to lower costs, I am both shocked and deeply disappointed by the governor’s decision to veto legislation that is so urgently needed for our small businesses throughout the commonwealth,” DuVal said.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, chaired by Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, said in a statement Wednesday that it backed Northam’s decision.
“A marketplace that many working Virginians rely on to meet their health care needs must be supported and enhanced, not undermined,” the group said.
Northam announced he will create a new work group to “continue identifying ways we can reduce costs and improve the quality of health care coverage for all Virginians.” Details about the work group’s name or its membership were not immediately available.
“I appreciate the work of proponents of these bills, and hope they will engage with the new work group to find more broad-based health care solutions for all Virginians,” Northam said.