JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s top budget lawmaker in the House of Representatives is not happy.
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, led Tuesday’s barrage against Gov. Mike Parson’s administration, angry about the blundering of a program housed within the Department of Health and Senior Services that looks to help stroke and heart attack patients get care from the most appropriate facility in the quickest amount of time.
That program, called the Time Critical Diagnosis System, has become a major concern in the past few weeks, as Gov. Parson vetoed $153,000 from the program, which equates to three full-time staff members, which many say means the discontinuation of the program.
The TCD System is a statewide system that brings together the 911 response system, ambulance services, and hospitals in a coordinated way to provide patients the right care, at the right place, in the right amount of time.
Members of the House Budget Committee on Tuesday questioned why the program was vetoed without having a plan in place to sustain the program, which proponents say has improved recovery times, reduced complications and saved lives, particularly in rural Missouri.
The veto caused a scare among hospitals, EMS providers, and patient advocates, as well as several legislators.
“As a stroke survivor, I am very concerned about these cuts. Every second counts,” Rep. Rocky Miller tweeted.
Those testifying in support on Tuesday said that delays in care could have “devastating impacts.”
Parson’s administration and DHSS Director Randall Williams attempted to downplay the potential issues, saying there wouldn’t be a break in service.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any change in the services provided by that budget cut,” Parson told reporters on Monday afternoon. “I don’t think you’re going to see any change in service.”
Prior to Tuesday’s budget meeting, DHSS issued a news release, stating that they were working with partners “to ensure funding for the Time Critical Diagnosis (TCD) System will remain steady moving forward.”
“We remain committed to working closely with our hospitals, providers and emergency medical services professionals to provide time-sensitive care to patients in a coordinated manner. As we transition the time-critical diagnosis system forward, we will ensure the funding remains steady and continue to provide this essential service for Missourians,” Williams stated in the Tuesday morning release.
But that assertion proved to be a major issue as the committee questioned Williams, who told the committee that the purpose of the veto was to get hospitals talking about changing the source of funding for the program.
He said there will be a meeting next week to discuss a plan that would require hospitals to pay about $1,000 per year to pay for accreditation.
“It was never our intent to interrupt services,” Williams said. “We thought this was a viable alternative.”
And after the backlash the veto brought on, Williams said he had brought back the employees who had been doing those jobs to keep the program going.
That proved to be the final straw for Fitzpatrick, who said that the funding for that program had been removed, and that didn’t mean that DHSS could simply move the program to be housed under other offices. He said that the funding had been vetoed and that it would be unconstitutional for DHSS to reallocate money that had been granted by the legislature for a specific purpose.
“Gov. Parson vetoed the funding, and it sounds like to me like you regret that decision and want to walk that back,” Fitzpatrick said, telling them that they couldn’t spend money on something they vetoed. “That’s not how this works.”
“We feel we’ve got flexibility within that section to move things around,” the Office of Administration’s budget director Dan Haug said.
“I disrespectfully disagree because I am pissed,” Fitzpatrick replied. “You guys messed up… You shouldn’t be doing that. You won’t be doing that.”
“You are going to lose big time on this eventually,” he told Haug, saying that if the department went forward with a plan ignoring the will of the legislature and the budget process put forward in the Consitution, there “will be hell to pay.”
“These inspections are important, but the governor made his decision. Everybody knew what the consequences were when it was made.”
Fitzpatrick said the only ways to fix it would be to have no inspections until the legislature passes a supplemental budget in January, or DHSS agreed a mistake was made and asked the legislature to override the veto.
The program could be able to continue until the legislature’s veto session in September, and Williams said that two hospitals are scheduled to be recertified by then.
The TCD veto cut was the only one to be truly debated by the committee, though nearly all of Parson’s 21 vetoed items were met with calls for overrides, ranging from cuts to higher education institutions like Harris-Stowe and Missouri Southern State University, as well as funding for employees in the Office of Child Advocate, which is housed in the Office of Public Defenders. Rep. Justin Hill also pushed for the override of a $50,000 veto meant to pay for emergency rescue tourniquets to supply to law enforcement agencies across the state.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.