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Bills on new “988” system, long term care resident rights and more heard by the House Health Care and Wellness committee

The House Health Care and Wellness committee heard testimony for three bills in their Thursday meeting. These bills were on topics like the establishment of the new federally mandated “988” crisis response system, measures to improve quality of life for long-term care residents and data and security protections for COVID-19 health data.

House Bill 1127 allows covered organizations to collect, use or disclose COVID-19 health data with affirmative consent from a user as necessary for combatting the public health crisis. It also specifies prohibited purposes for collecting, using or disclosing COVID-19 health data and it exempts the data from disclosure under the Public Records Act.

Data collected by public health agencies, health care providers and health care facilities are exempted from this act.

If this bill can offer reassurance to even one person that your COVID-19 health data will only be used for health related purpose, that use is consented to and transparent, the data that is collected by government agency or company or tech service won’t be monetized or used for employment insurance reasons or reasons unrelated to public health protection, then I believe we can save people’s lives,” said Rep. Vandana Slatter, the bill’s co-sponsor.

She said in the writing and research that has been done, data privacy experts were consulted heavily and the bill had gained the approval of those experts.

In the testimony heard on this bill, there were concerns about employers and how they would be able to notify employees and customers about a possible outbreak if the exposed person had not opted in to share their health data. There was also concern from the Washington State Long Term Care Ombuds program about the possible implications of their organization being included in this bill and requested to be added to the excluded agencies.

House Bill 1182 directs the Department of Health (DOH) to designated crisis hotline centers that meet the technology standards and have the ability to identify and deploy the necessary resources needed for the person experiencing the behavioral health crisis. It requires organizations to have community-based crisis rapid response services for people. The bill also establishes the 988 crisis response line, establishes a 988 Crisis Hotline Systems Director to manage the system and creates an implementation coalition to monitor the implementation and the improvements to behavioral health services.

This bill is going to make some systems uncomfortable,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, the bill’s sponsor. “Change is hard, but remember it is better for the system to be uncomfortable than a person experiencing an emotional crisis or their family. We need coordination and training of all parties, including our 911 system and law enforcement.” 

In the testimony heard, although there was support across the board for the goals of this bill, there were some concerns raised by the people and groups that testified. One such concern was the placement of these crisis hotline centers under the DOH, rather than the Washington Health Care Authority. 

There were also concerns from groups that run current crises centers about confusion from the people who are using these existing systems and making sure the transition is as painless as possible for them. Those who testified also asked from where the funding for this bill will come and questioned the possibility of disruptions in care for the people who rely on these systems.

House Bill 1218 requires long-term care facilities to have disaster preparedness plans in place, meet timeliness standards for communicating with the public and providing access to communication equipment to residents and maintain a current resident roster and contact list with resident and resident representative information on the list. It also provides residents of these facilities the right to visitation by an essential support person during times when visitation is limited. The bill also directs the Department of Social and Health Services to develop training materials to educate local health jurisdictions about the state’s long-term care system and the rights of residents.

Many long-term care residents have had their mobility and lives restricted to their rooms since March of 2020,” said Patrica Hunter from the Washington State Long Term Care Ombuds. “This has resulted in a double pandemic, a compounding impact of the disease coupled with social isolation resulting in profound impacts on the health and well-being of residents.” 

There was testimony from many who acknowledge the situation is not ideal. Many of the items provided for in the bill are already established either at the state or federal level. They were not given a seat at the table, said Alyssa Odegaard, vice president of public policy at Leadingage Washington. 

The next House Health Care and Wellness committee meeting is on Feb. 1 at 1:30 pm.

This story was cross-posted on our sister site State of Reform.


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