Advancing positive public health policies

June 26, 2023

Advancing positive public health policies

By Sen. Heather Somers

Op-ed in The Day of New London

As Ranking Senator on the state legislature’s Public Health Committee, I strive to work across the political aisle to pass policies which improve everyone’s quality of life. I am pleased to report that the 2023 legislative session brought bipartisan progress in a number of public health policy areas.

Mold Standards/Branford Manor Law
A new law tasks the state with developing standards for indoor mold quality in residential housing. I introduced the bill after seeing issues with mold at Branford Manor, the federally subsidized housing complex in the City of Groton. Branford Manor residents have complained for years about mold in their apartments, which has been found in basements, bathrooms, kitchens and throughout the units. Some residents have said the mold is making them sick.

I was surprised to learn that there are currently no state standards for what levels of mold are safe. This legislation will establish those standards while directing the state Department of Public Health to create a public service announcement on how to prevent mold and how to remove it.

Once the state develops the standards, the legislature’s Public Health Committee will hold a public hearing. Our panel will then propose a bipartisan bill to adopt the standards and how they would be implemented. The goal is to give local health districts more teeth in how they can encourage landlords that operate government-funded facilities to take action to mitigate mold and prevent it from happening.

Prescription for Cost Savings
We can all agree that health care is unaffordable. A bill I co-sponsored aims to bring down health care costs and curb the rising cost of prescription drugs. The legislation, which is supported by Connecticut hospitals, will:

  • Create a drug discount program for state residents.
  • Restrict the charging of unnecessary hospital “facility fees.”
  • Have Connecticut join a multi-state program that offers lower prices through the bulk purchase of generic drugs.
  • Analyze pharmacy benefits managers’ practices of prescription drug distribution, including fees charged.

This is a pro-consumer bill which will curb rising costs, promote wellness and help patients. Fighting to create a more affordable Connecticut is a vision we can achieve together.
Improving the Safety of Health Care Providers and Patients

We all have a right to feel safe in our jobs, and that includes our skilled and dedicated health care workers who are simply trying to help people. Legislation I co-sponsored to stop growing violence against healthcare workers awaits the governor’s signature. It requires the state to make public information about programs which can bolster security at hospital entrances and public spaces or for other measures to ensure the safety of healthcare providers, hospital staff, and patients.

Addressing reproductive health care “deserts”
The governor has signed legislation which incorporates a proposal I co-introduced with Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich) to allow trained pharmacists to prescribe birth control.
It authorizes pharmacists to prescribe contraception to a patient if the accredited pharmacist completes an educational training program that addresses appropriate patient medical screenings, drug interactions, treatment strategies, and when to refer patients to medical providers.

This legislation has been successful in expanding access to reproductive health care in states throughout the country. It will give women more options, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. We have a shortage of medical professionals in our workforce, and we must make sure we are efficiently utilizing skilled professionals to help render health care. I have heard from women from across the state: They want this policy change. Many women – particularly here in eastern Connecticut – don’t have convenient access to primary care physicians and live in reproductive health care “deserts,” so they appreciate having this option.

Encouraging health workforce development
I co-sponsored legislation which reduces initial and renewal license fees for social workers, marital and family therapists, and professional counselors. I also co-sponsored legislation which enters Connecticut into a Physical Therapy Licensure Compact, creating a process authorizing physical therapists and PT assistants who are licensed or certified in one member state to practice across state boundaries without requiring licensure or certification in each state. These new laws will send a clear signal that we want more people to enter into these professions.

These are just some of many positive steps that we are taking to improve health care accessibility and affordability in Connecticut while also addressing dangerous health conditions in our public housing. I remain committed to further collaborative efforts on these and many other impactful public health initiatives. If you have ideas for future policies, I want to hear them. Contact me at [email protected].

Sen. Somers represents Griswold, Groton, North Stonington, Plainfield, Preston, Sterling, Stonington and Voluntown.