Week 7 | Protecting Healthcare Throughout WA & Town Hall Invite!
Happy Fantastic Friday!
It’s the seventh week of the legislative session! Last Friday was policy cutoff and this Friday is fiscal cutoff. Only bills that have already passed out of their policy committee and fiscal committee will be moving forward.
This week, I’d like to share some of the ways we’re expanding and supporting healthcare throughout Washington. But first, I’d like to share a video about why representation matters, and how I’m bringing communities together to better serve Washington.
I’d also like to provide a brief but important update from the Department of Ecology on an urgent situation in the district.
Ecology is Responding to a Sunken Tugboat Near Lopez Island
Ecology received a report on Wednesday that a construction tugboat struck a rock and sank off the northern side of Lopez Island, not far from the Washington State Ferry dock. The tug has a diesel fuel capacity of 800 gallons, and reportedly had 400 gallons on board when it sank. The tug’s bridge is still visible above the water surface, and we do not yet have reports of whether diesel is currently leaking from the vessel. Sheen was spotted in the area during a USCG overflight, but it’s unknown, at this time, if it’s associated with the sunken tug.
Ecology is coordinating initial response actions with the US Coast Guard and San Juan Emergency Management, and here are the current initial plans.
- Ecology has dispatched responders to assess whether fuel is leaking and determine its trajectory.
- Ecology responders are enroute by ferry with air monitoring instrumentation to assess potential public health threats from diesel vapors
- Ecology is coordinating with potentially impacted tribes and resource trustees to inventory resources at risk, and determine the potential exposure to Southern Resident Killer Whales
- Two response contractors are responding for pollution response, plugging any leaking fuel vents on the sunken tug, and to determine salvage options
- Responders are coordinating with San Juan Emergency Management and the Islands Oil Spill Association to get shoreside information and address community concerns
- The US Coast Guard is dispatching the cutter Swordfish to the incident location
On Wednesday evening, contractors were successful in lifting the vessel onto the barge. The vessel was surrounded by boom as a precaution. No pollution releases were observed during the lift operations.
The tug and barge remained on scene last night due to inclement weather. When the weather breaks, they will begin the transit to Tacoma where investigations will continue.
You can follow along on their continued response on Twitter and Facebook.
Stabilizing Our Healthcare System
Support for children in crisis
Across Washington, an uptick of mental health crises among youth has put more children in hospitals. In extreme cases, after a child has been treated for behavioral or psychological concerns and is ready to be discharged, there is nowhere for them to go. They may end up “boarding,” or stuck in limbo inside of hospital units, as their parents or guardians can’t handle them at home safely or they don’t have the resources or supports needed.
We’ve heard from so many caregivers, providers, and advocates that the schedules, demands, and number of patients each healthcare worker is responsible for is far beyond capacity: healthcare workers are in greater demand than ever, and a workforce shortage is putting a strain on our entire healthcare system.
Coupled with the uptick in severe mental health crises, hospital beds remain full, further straining psychiatric care availability, and children are staying indefinitely in small hospital rooms without windows or the ability to go outdoors, exacerbating their mental health challenges. This alarming issue is the consequence of numerous other issues interacting: the children’s mental health crisis, a lack of mental health and developmental disabilities supports for children, and a limited supply of housing options. You can read more about these children’s experiences here.
We are hard at work on innovative, compassionate, and urgent solutions to these challenges:
- Creating a system of support for children in crisis and stuck in hospitals (HB 1580). This bill creates a Children and Youth Care Coordinator in the Governor’s office to implement and lead a Rapid Care Team to identify and locate appropriate services, supports, and safe, secure living arrangements for a child in crisis.
- Making applied behavioral therapy more accessible (HB 1776). Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy helps to improve social skills for people with autism and other disabilities by using interventions based on principles of learning, and increases social abilities like completing tasks, communicating effectively, and learning new skills which is critical. While Medicaid covers ABA therapy, private insurance often fails to. HB 1776 will ensure private insurance coverage, making this valuable tool more accessible to families, and allowing youth to get the care they need. Combined with wraparound intensive services, more youth can be served in the community.
Representation in Intervention
Our community has shown an incredible amount of resilience over the last few years. At the same time, statewide challenges have revealed shortfalls and gaps in our behavioral health system. My colleagues and I passed legislation to coordinate 911 calls with the new 988 behavioral health emergency system. Intervention at the right time, by the right person, may prevent suicide or calm a crisis. When someone is in immediate danger, dialing 988 offers immediate support. This system was implemented last year, allowing folks to call 988 to connect to crisis services, suicide prevention resources, and mental health professionals as needed.
The CDC recently reported that Non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native people have the highest suicide rates overall, and have had the biggest increase (26%) between 2018 and 2021. This underscores the burden of suicide in the U.S., and in particular the growing burden among youth, Indigenous communities, and all communities of color.
This also underscores the value of this work: the 988 mental health crisis line is saving lives. The 988 helpline registered 154,585 more calls, texts and chat messages during November 2022 compared to the old national lifeline in November 2021, according to the latest data available.
And in November, Washington became the first state to launch a mental health crisis line dedicated to American Indian and Alaska Native people. Callers in Washington can reach the line by calling 988 and then pressing “4” to be greeted by one of the 13 counselors – all indigenous people – who staff the phones. Having fellow American Indians answer those calls is crucial, because those familiar with the culture can immediately decode some terms that others cannot—who understands native people better than native people? Representation matters.
Here are some other free resources recommended by local health experts if you or someone that you know needs some support:
- The Crisis Text Line provides confidential and secure text access from anywhere in the U.S. to a trained crisis counselor. Text HOME to 741741.
- Teen Link offers confidential support from trained volunteers to teens about any issue, no matter how big or small, in English and Spanish. Call or text 866-833-6546
- National Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Securing, Strengthening, and Expanding Reproductive Healthcare
Sunday, January 22nd would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, protecting a woman’s constitutional right to choose. This case affirmed the basic principles of equality, the fundamental right to privacy, and solidified the right people have to their own destinies. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to upend decades of constitutional protections for reproductive care and abortion rights, many state legislatures have banned or restricted access to abortion and gender-affirming care.
This legislative session, it’s one of our top priorities to expand access to reproductive freedom and ensure that Washington remains a safe haven — for both in- and out-of-state access. We’re keeping abortion available, accessible, and affordable with a package of bills that will stand up against extremists and states looking to take away your rights.
HB 1340 – Health care providers are under attack in other states. This bill ensures that Washington’s providers cannot be disciplined in our state because they provide reproductive or gender affirming care in accordance with Washington state law, regardless of where their patients reside.
HB 1469 – The Shield Law protects patients and providers of reproductive and gender-affirming care in Washington from retribution by other states.
HB 1286 – Extremists want to punish employers and scare them away from providing support for reproductive health care services. When another state’s laws allow a judgment against an employer for providing support for reproductive care allowed in Washington state, this bill allows the employer to recover damages here in Washington from the people who brought the action or sought to enforce the judgment.
HB 1263 – The Keep Our Care Act prohibits hospitals from merging if the consolidation diminishes patients’ access to services, including reproductive, end-of-life and gender-affirming care.
HB 1115 – Patients seeking an abortion may find the cost prohibitive, and no one should be unable to get the reproductive care they need because of an inability to pay. Under this bill, anyone seeking an abortion cannot be required to pay a co-payment or meet their deductible to have their services covered.
Thank you for coming by my office!
It was wonderful meeting with some constituents from the district for SEIU 775’s lobby day. When we support caregivers as the essential healthcare workers we are, we also improve long-term care in Washington for generations.
It is always great to meet with friends from Anacortes, Councilmembers Carolyn Moulton (left) and Christine Cleland-McGrath (right) and public works director Henry Hash, when they were down in Olympia advocating for local projects:
I would love to thank the WashPIRG kids for this beautiful card—and promise that I did break up with plastics this Valentine’s Day!
I had a wonderful conversation with a Washington Education Association member and special educator from our district about the desperate need to fully fund our special education programs this year. This is a commitment we must meet for our educators and students alike. We spoke about Rep. Ramel’s bill (HB 1244) on enrichment levies which will benefit our island communities.
Save the Date – Town Hall Invite!
Mark your calendar for the 40th LD Town Hall on March 18thth, at 11AM. Stay tuned here for more details!
If you’d like to get in touch but can’t participate in the Town Hall, please feel free to email me at Debra.Lekanoff@leg.wa.g.vo or email my legislative assistant at Devon.McBride@leg.wa.gov to find a time to stop by my office in Olympia.
Thank you all for taking to the time to read this week’s Fantastic Friday, and for taking an interest in our progress at the House of Representatives.
Please feel free to reach out to me using the information below, with any questions, inquiries, or concerns you may have.
I am here for you!
All best wishes,
Rep. Debra Lekanof