NEWPORT, Tenn. (WATE) — While visiting Newport on Friday, Gov. Bill Lee talked about his announcement to end Tennessee’s COVID-19 state of emergency.
The latest executive order relating to COVID-19 and the state of emergency was set to expire at midnight on Friday, and Lee had no plans to extend them for the time being.
“Our state of emergency allowed us to give the flexibility that allowed our hospitals, our health care companies, for example, to provide services in the middle of that crisis,” Lee said.
That flexibility included making it easier for hospitals to expedite the hiring process for nurses and other medical professionals. The executive orders tried to make access to care easier.
“It allowed nurses to work in different roles than they had before, it allowed to medical technicians to do things differently than they had been allowed to do because of regulation,” Lee said.
In previous orders that have already expired, another example was allowing pharmacies to relieve some of the pressure from primary care physicians.
“Maintenance medications could be reordered or refilled for a 90 day supply. If it was a maintenance medication, like a blood pressure medication, and they weren’t able to get in to see their doctor, or there were COVID restrictions and they could not get their refill or a new prescription,” Morgan Honeycutt, president of Mac’s LTC Pharmacy, said.
Honeycutt said the executive orders simply made some of the red tape temporarily disappear while they needed to focus on fighting the pandemic. It loosened up some of the regulations, enabling them to have an extra hand on deck.
“The best example with the pharmacy is we could have four technicians to one pharmacist. And when we’re increasing things like COVID care, having a fifth technician isn’t dangerous in the workforce for oversight and supervision, when a lot of the times it was just to help with paperwork,” Honeycutt said.
Again, those orders impacting pharmacies were lifted months ago, according to Honeycutt. He said the state of emergency lifting Friday night most impact other types of health care entities, such as hospitals.
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“Like retired physicians. I think if you were retired, you could still practice again under this provision. So it’s a lot of different things like that tried to make access to care easier,” Honeycutt said.
Testing availability could be impacted by the state of emergency for COVID-19 expiring. Under Executive Order 83, additional testing was allowed at alternative locations without prior approval by the Medical Laboratory Board.
Honeycutt said that shouldn’t impact testing at pharmacies though, because they are still following a federal act, which allows them to continue several COVID-19 related practices.
“Without the (Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness) Act, we would not be able to order the testing and then administer the monoclonal antibodies all in-house. That would require the traditional physician’s prescriptions. They’d probably have to go to their doctor, get tested there, get a prescription, then get a pharmacy, once again delaying that care,” Honeycutt said.
Honeycutt said there are several deregulations from the executive order that would make treating patients easier.
Lee said the access to quicker health care might not after Friday. He hopes to take what they learned from the pandemic to the General Assembly.
“Some of those things we learned, should actually be permanent changes. So, I think when we get into the next General Assembly, the next legislature, we will propose and look at some of the things we found really worked as a result of the state of emergency and the flexibility given to health care providers and make those permanent changes,” Lee said.
The Tennessee National Guard helping out understaffed and overwhelmed hospitals was also part of the order that expires Friday night. According to National Guard officials, they have created a plan to continue assisting health care facilities.
“There should not be significant changes other than that deregulatory piece,” Lee said.
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