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DeSantis signs Live Healthy bills meant to train, retain health-care workers – Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a package of bills Thursday that supporters say will help improve access to health care, increase the number of doctors in Florida and address issues such as mental-health treatment.

“What they (state leaders) are tackling right now are some of the biggest challenges that we face in the Sunshine State, and that’s access to health care in a reliable, reproducible, sustainable kind of way,” said Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris, who took part in a bill-signing event in Bonita Springs. “There are critical shortages in the health care workforce. We’ve seen an exceptional growth in labor costs. Patients are struggling to access the care they need, and the demand for behavioral health services is at a record high.”

The bills were a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican who dubbed them the “Live Healthy” initiative. Passidomo said they are designed to meet the health care needs of a rapidly growing population.

“Unfortunately, the new Floridians are not bringing their health care providers with them,” Passidomo said. “We’re going to change that.”

DeSantis signed five bills, although much of the attention has focused on a wide-ranging measure (SB 7016) that includes $717 million in spending. The bill will provide money for increased residency slots for doctors and put additional dollars into loan-forgiveness programs for health care professionals.

The bill will also take workforce-related steps such as helping clear the way for foreign-trained physicians to practice in Florida.

The bill also takes on issues such as trying to shift patients away from hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency conditions. It will require hospitals to take steps to divert patients by creating a “collaborative partnership” with federally qualified health centers or other primary-care providers.

It includes allowing “advanced birth centers” that could provide cesarean-section deliveries for women who have what are considered low-risk pregnancies. Birth centers already exist but are not allowed to provide cesarean sections, which are surgical procedures carried out in hospitals.

Other bills signed Thursday included a measure (SB 7018) that would provide $50 million a year for a revolving loan fund program for health innovation projects.

Another bill (SB 330) will designate four behavioral-health teaching hospitals linked to universities to help address issues with treating patients for mental health conditions. The bill will provide $100 million a year over the next three years to the teaching hospitals, with additional money provided for such things as residency positions for psychiatrists.

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