A legislative budget meeting has confirmed that, as it stands, only a third of hospitals will be receiving money through what lawmakers once dubbed a “hospital lifeline program.”
As SuperTalk Mississippi News first reported back in May, the $103 million Hospital Sustainability Grant Program passed during the most recent session had one major flaw: the money would derive from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and not the state’s general fund. That meant most hospitals that had already claimed COVID-19 relief funds would not be eligible for the grant program intended to aid in Mississippi’s ongoing hospital crisis.
“The hospitals were under the impression that this money was going to come through the general fund, and it turned out the appropriations bill taps into some remaining ARPA funds that the state head,” said Paul Black, who was serving as the CEO at Winston Medical Center at the time. “There are a lot of rules and regulations that go around with those particular funds, and instead of being a grant where the funds are distributed to the hospitals, it ends up being a reimbursement process and the reimbursement is only for COVID-related expenses.”
During a Legislative Budget Committee meeting on Sept. 29, lawmakers and health officials met at the state capitol to discuss the status of the funds. Dr. Dan Edney, who serves as state health officer, informed members that only around a third of hospitals – or 38 of 110 – that applied for the money would receive any of it due to the COVID-19 stipulations.
“Unfortunately, you picked the wrong pot of money,” Edney told lawmakers.
Lawmakers bounced the blame back on Edney, citing a $700,000 check the Mississippi State Department of Health had been awarded to disburse the money.
“Effectively, you’re cutting out two-thirds of the hospitals,” Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said as Edney responded, “I’m not cutting out any. This program is cutting out two-thirds.”
Hosemann and company argued that the issue of where the funds came from was not brought to light until after the 2023 legislative session. Edney maintained that he informed lawmakers of the risks of using ARPA funds as the bill was being considered.
With less than 90 days until the 2024 legislative session, Edney provided lawmakers with a list of possible options:
- The program can be activated now, and 38 of 110 eligible hospitals will receive the $103 million promised.
- The current statute can be altered by lawmakers for all eligible hospitals to receive a portion of the money, but it could not be done without legislators gaveled in. With a special session unlikely, that would mean hospitals get $0 from the program until at least after the start of the year.
While Edney believes the first option is the best as nearly half of Mississippi’s rural hospitals are in danger of closing, he put the final call on those who put the program into play.
“Y’all need to make that decision,” he said. “I need to be given direction.”