FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Governor Andy Beshear outlined his health care priorities Wednesday as part of his larger budget plan, putting an emphasis on tackling the nursing shortage, investing in local health departments, and providing more resources for mental health services, among other things.
"It's a pretty special moment in our history when doing the right thing is doing the smart thing," Beshear said.
The governor said his recommendations for the upcoming budget reflect his belief that health care is a basic human right.
"But in a pandemic, we've seen it's the difference between life and death," he said. "We must continue to ensure that every Kentuckian has some form of health care coverage."
Beshear said his budget plan fully funds the Medicaid program, as well as Medicaid expansion.
"What's often overlooked with Medicaid is that without Medicaid our health care system in Kentucky would collapse," said Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander.
To help recruit and retain nurses, the governor recommended providing $6 million each year to increase the number of scholarships awarded to potential nurses. He also proposed establishing a student loan forgiveness program that would begin in May.
"Our nurses are the brave, compassionate health care heroes who care for our people," said Beshear. "And sadly, some people disrespect them through their words or their actions. So let's take positive action to say in one clear voice that we love our Kentucky nurses."
Beshear also praised local health department officials for their work during the pandemic. In his budget proposal, the governor offered more than $36 million through FY 2024 to "transform Kentucky's local health departments."
"From testing to keeping people informed to administering vaccines and boosters," Beshear said. "Our health departments are on the front lines helping our people daily."
Beshear said the proposed funding would be used to help with staffing, as well as operational needs.
"I've never known a day where every dollar wasn't stretched," said Cassie Prather, the Woodford County public health director.
Prather said health departments throughout the state have long been underfunded.
"There are so many things that I feel like we've been reacting to instead of trying to prevent," Prather said. "So it would be a much better use of funding if we implemented programs upstream rather than reacting to them after they've happened."
Other aspects of the governor's budget plan include:
- Investing in mental health services: more than $12 million to phase in 170 additional staff to community mental health centers
- An additional $1.25 million each year from his budget to KY Pediatric Research Trust Fund
- A 34% increase in funding to domestic violence centers, rape crisis centers, and child advocacy centers
- New Office of Dementia Services
- Caring for KY veterans: $200,000 each year for Homeless Veterans Program; $700,000 annually to increase the number of veterans benefit field representatives; more money for outreach
"It's a Kentucky value --taking care of our neighbors," Beshear said. "And this budget makes it a top priority."