Health care providers and state officials would be able to respond more quickly and effectively during a pandemic, pending full legislative passage of four bills passed today by the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee.

“Swift action by public and private entities across our state helped us address the pandemic better than most states, but we can improve on that by updating our laws and protocols,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), the committee chair and sponsor of three of the bills. “The lessons of today can ensure a healthier tomorrow.”

Cleveland’s Senate Bill 5294 would increase protections for many of the most vulnerable members of the public by directing the state Department of Health to develop guidelines for long-term care facilities during an epidemic. Among other things, the guidelines would cover visitation and admission policies, priority access to protective equipment and infection control supplies, and swift testing to identify outbreaks.

“The coronavirus has shown us the need to protect people who are particularly at risk, such as seniors in long-term care facilities,” Cleveland said. “In many cases, their age and health amplify their vulnerability to COVID-19.”

Two other bills, SB 5169 and SB 5302, would improve access to reliable personal protective equipment (PPE) by controlling costs during high demand and by establishing a database of vendors of state-approved equipment. The second, SB 5302, is sponsored by Cleveland.

The fourth bill, SB 5178, is also sponsored by Cleveland. It would automatically waive or suspend certain state health care laws involving certificates of need, facilities, and licensing when the governor declares a statewide state of emergency.

“When a pandemic hits, it’s important for our state to be able to move swiftly and surely to protect the public,” Cleveland said. “While the governor can waive statutes, this bill would save time and provide certainty to health care providers by making the waivers automatic.”

All four bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.