Governor Greg Abbott announced March 25 that he has temporarily waived certain hospital licensing rules and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has adopted an emergency rule to meet Texas’ need for additional hospital capacity while the state responds to COVID-19.
The actions allow for certain facilities that have pending licenses or facilities that have been closed for no more than 36 months to come online under existing hospital building licenses. These facilities will be administered and operated by hospitals with existing licenses. The waivers also remove certain mileage restrictions which will allow hospitals to operate additional facilities that are more than 30 miles away from the main licensed hospital.
“One of our top objectives is to ensure that COVID-19 patients in Texas who need a hospital bed will have access to a bed,” said Abbott. “There are healthcare facilities across the state that have either recently closed or have yet to receive a license, but are otherwise ideal locations to aid in our COVID-19 response. By waiving these rules, we can quickly bring many of these facilities online to help Texas communities maximize their hospital capacity and provide care to Texans in need.”
Additionally, Abbott has directed HHSC to waive certain regulatory requirements regarding facility license renewals. These waivers will allow general, special, and psychiatric hospitals, free-standing emergency medical facilities, and end-stage renal facilities to renew their license without submitting a fire marshal's report. The facilities will still be required to update their records at a later date.
The newer action follows an executive order from Abbott on March 22 to expand hospital bed capacity as the state responds to the COVID-19 virus. The order is meant to reinforce Texas’ health care capabilities and provide additional space for hospitals to provide care to COVID-19 patients.
Under the order, the governor directed all licensed health care professionals and facilities to postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately, medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition or to preserve the life of a patient who without immediate performance of the surgery or procedure would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death, as determined by the patient’s physician. This does not apply to any procedure that, if performed in accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice, would not deplete the hospital capacity or the personal protective equipment needed to cope with the COVID-19 disaster.
The governor’s order also suspended certain regulations as requested by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to allow for increased occupancy of hospital rooms — meaning hospitals will be able to treat more than one patient in a patient room, thus increasing their ability to care for the growing number of COVID-19 patients.