Legislature Holds Two COVID-19 Pandemic Informational Hearings

This week, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services and the Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response each held informational hearings on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Below, we detail these hearings:

Assembly Sub. 1 Examines Health Care Workforce, Safety Net Programs

On Monday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 convened an informational hearing to examine critical health and human services issues in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In opening the hearing, Subcommittee No. 1 Chair Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula discussed the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 on the state’s sectors and residents, including on safety net programs, unemployment insurance, and food banks. Arambula noted that although the hearing focused only on two issues, numerous other issues requiring attention have also emerged, including public health infrastructure and workforce and skilled nursing facilities. Monday’s hearing consisted of two panels featuring representatives from the health care delivery system, health plans and insurers, labor, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), and the Newsom Administration.

The first panel explored California’s health care system and workforce, including the provision of services during the pandemic, financial status of the health care system, health plan and insurer performance, health care worker supports, and needed economic investments or interventions that should be considered by the Legislature. Ben Johnson from the LAO provided an overview of the experience of the health care delivery system throughout the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, including economic and workforce impacts. Dr. Bradley Gilbert from the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) and Shelley Rouillard from the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) detailed their departments’ monitoring and oversight activities of health plans during the pandemic, as well as financial and workforce impacts to health plans as a result of the pandemic.

The California Hospital Association (CHA) and the California Medical Association (CMA) detailed experiences of hospitals and physicians amid COVID-19, including decreased patient volumes and revenues, increased hospital costs borne by meeting COVID-19 hospital surge capacity, and workforce impacts on health care workers. Other panelists included the California Association of Health Plans, SEIU California, and Health Access California discussing health coverage efforts, workforce impacts, consumer protections, and health service availability and access during COVID-19. Notably, SEIU California discussed at length the historic underfunding of local health departments (LHDs) throughout the state and nation and significant public health investments necessary to supporting the reopening of our state and the ongoing protection of the public’s health.

The hearing’s second panel explored safety net programs and featured representatives from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), Department of Developmental Services (CDDS), and California Department of Aging (CDA). State representatives provided overviews of safety net benefits, including food and work assistance, child welfare and adult protective services impacts, homelessness, developmental services needs, and older adult needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other panelists included County Welfare Directors Association (CWDA) Executive Director Frank Mecca, a CalWORKs recipient, and SEIU California. The majority of updates and information provided during the second panel focused on various emergency investments and actions from federal and state governments to support vulnerable populations in California, as well as remaining actions needed to further support these populations as the state faces challenging economic and budget conditions.

During public comment, CHEAC Executive Director Michelle Gibbons expressed the need to bolster the public health infrastructure, particularly amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Gibbons’ comments also highlighted the challenges experienced by local health departments in recruiting and retaining a highly skilled workforce, as well as the cascading detrimental impacts on other sectors and industries when public health is not adequately resourced. In closing the hearing, Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula discussed the growing and intensifying needs of vulnerable populations throughout the state amid the pandemic and expressed hope for limiting impacts on California’s children and families in upcoming budget negotiations.

Monday’s hearing agenda is available here and a video recording of the hearing is available here.

Senate Special Committee Explores Testing and Contact Tracing

On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response convened its inaugural hearing to explore testing and contact tracing efforts throughout the state in responding to COVID-19. Wednesday’s hearing consisted of two panels, one providing state and local government perspectives and the other around academic and commercial testing activities.

CDPH Assistant Director Dr. Charity Dean and Blue Shield of California President and CEO Paul Markovich, co-chairs of the Governor’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force, began the hearing by providing updates on the progress of the task force, testing access and availability, state guidance on testing eligibility criteria, and testing goals of the Administration moving forward. CDPH Chief Deputy Director Susan Fanelli also discussed efforts around establishing contact tracing capacities throughout the state, including through the reassignment of state employees, launch of the UCSF/UCLA virtual training academy, and development of a statewide data management platform.

Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis detailed local health departments’ core functions in surveillance, disease control, communication, and resource coordination in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Madera County Public Health Director Ms. Sara Bosse discussed local COVID-19 testing efforts, contact tracing challenges in rural counties, health equity issues associated with COVID-19, and areas of needed state support in responding to the pandemic. Ms. Bosse further indicated that no other entity besides local health departments has a statutory mandate to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases and highlighted the need for locally flexible solutions to adequately prepare for and respond to the next public health threat.

Senate special committee members queried panelists on a wide array of topics, including testing methodologies and capacity to support the state’s move into future stages of its Pandemic Resilience Roadmap, testing availability in rural areas and in pharmacies, privacy protections related to contact tracing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supply needs, congregate settings (including state prisons), data reporting requirements, vaccine and immunity development, workplace protections, contact tracing workforce development, and continuity of other public health services amid the pandemic.

The second panel featured updates from UC San Diego and UC San Francisco researchers on diagnostic and antibody testing efforts and developments, Quest Diagnostics on commercial laboratory activities, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) on health equity and disparity considerations.

Public comment featured a series of comments around testing and tracing opt in/out, contact tracing data privacy and data breaches, testing availability, and isolation and quarantine orders Similar to Monday’s Assembly Budget Subcommittee No.1 hearing, CHEAC Executive Director Michelle Gibbons urged the need to bolster local public health capacity and infrastructure and sustain a highly skilled public health workforce into the long-term. Special Committee Chair Senator Lena Gonzalez, in closing the hearing, indicated that additional hearings will be held in the near future around pandemic response and preparedness activities.

Wednesday’s hearing agenda is available here, a background paper is available here, a COVID-19 Testing Task Force Update is available here, and a video recording of the hearing is available here.