What a Year, Ohio!

The American Heart Association’s 2021-2022 fiscal year has just ended, and even as many legislative bodies break for summer recess, our work to improve health across the Buckeye State continues—with help from our dedicated You’re the Cure advocates.  What have we accomplished, and where are we going next?

hero_image_alt_text===Dr Hicks testifying
thumbnail_alt_text===Dr Hicks testifying

This past year was chock full of engagement by board members and staff, testimony from volunteers, and a plethora of action alerts being sent out to recruit new volunteers on a variety of issues.  This work was not for nothing; we witnessed quite a few policies cross the finish line that make our mission statement a reality – providing the opportunity for all to live longer, healthier lives. And it is all thanks to you!

Below I will outline some of the great work that was accomplished this fiscal year and will discuss what we still have ongoing. (Ohio’s legislature is on a 2-year cycle and this General Assembly does not adjourn until the end of 2022.)

In the previous state operating budget bill, we were successful in seeing appropriation increases to the Tobacco Cessation Fund and the Ohio SNAP Double-Up Program – Produce Perks.  These alone should be applauded for their broad effect on Ohioans.  But in addition, we also advocated for the passage of the Medicaid Postpartum Extension and funding. This change, which went into effect on April 1, will be beneficial for all those Medicaid recipients who gave birth this year by extending their postpartum coverage from 60-days to 1 full year.  Babies, moms, and families will benefit from this extension as we have seen from evidence that some of the most dangerous pregnancy-related complications such as preeclampsia, blood clots, and cardiomyopathy may not surface until weeks, or even months, after delivery. 

In Youngstown, we worked with Councilwoman Samantha Turner, her colleagues on Council, and the Youngstown Health Department to implement a Healthy Default Beverages ordinance. This policy provides that beverages offered with a pre-packaged kids’ meal will be either water, milk, or juice. This provides parents with a much easier choice when eating outside of the home. More often than ever, we are seeing busy families choose this route for speed, and sometimes cost.  The ordinance will not impede customers' ability to order a different beverage or the restaurant's ability to sell them a different option. A parent, guardian or other adult buying the meal could still order a soda or sugar-sweetened drink for the child instead. However, with the increased sugar intake we see in children, we hope this will provide an easier pathway to changing that habit.

During the throes of the pandemic when Ohioans were unsure of what lay ahead and were fearful to venture out of their homes, even for a doctor's visit, the Ohio Office of Medicaid implemented a rule to expand Medicaid coverage of Telehealth services.  The American Heart Association then worked with Rep. Michael Fraizer to craft a more permanent solution to this issue for those who don’t feel comfortable driving, have quite a commute to their doctors’ offices, or simply don’t want to leave their home for a simple check-in with their physician by drafting and advocating for the passage of HB 122.  This bill is a big step forward in expanding healthcare access in Ohio and will pave the way for a more advanced, modern healthcare system that can better meet the needs of patients and providers. We know from years of research that telehealth can greatly improve access to care, lower costs, and increase flexibility for patients and providers.

group photoStill ongoing at the Statehouse, but we are optimistic it will pass yet this General Assembly is HB 431, the Stroke Registry Bill. Introduced in September of 2021, this bill passed the House Health Committee unanimously and received an 88-0 vote on the House floor. Ohio currently uses a statewide stroke registry, but it is not guaranteed. We currently receive a grant to operate this system but if that grant ever goes away, the program would too.  HB 431 looks to solve that issue by codifying this best practice. This legislation will make it mandatory for all Ohio Department of Health-recognized Comprehensive, Thrombectomy-Capable, and Primary Stroke Centers to provide data regarding stroke patients – from the time they have a stroke until they are discharged from the hospital and return to their primary care doctor for outpatient care. This reporting on a sample of patients will help to ensure that all stroke patients in Ohio will continue to receive the highest quality of care for stroke, a leading cause of death and long-term disability, by supporting a statewide, coordinated stroke system of care. The bill is awaiting Senate Health Committee hearings, which are scheduled to commence upon the legislators’ return in November, which could make for a crazy Lame Duck Session. Health Committee members have been educated on this issue by advocates who have attended legislative meetings, sent e-mails, and made phone calls asking for support. Send your e-mail today! 

Also ongoing at the Statehouse but not as far along is HB 445. This legislation began as a simple telecommunicator CPR bill which would have required all PSAP operators to be trained in the delivery of telephonic CPR instruction to bystanders who need to provide CPR to a cardiac arrest or heart attack victim before the EMTs arrive. Now, with the additional assistance from the State 9-1-1 Program Office, local government officials, EMS Boards, and others the bill has developed into a comprehensive overhaul of the state 9-1-1 system called Next Generation 9-1-1.  Not only will PSAP operators be required to be trained in CPR instruction, but also a variety of other potentially life-saving techniques.  It will also provide the dispatchers with the ability to utilize the bystander's mobile phone camera to assess the situation before EMTs arrive and provide text-to-911 capabilities for those in situations where a call is not feasible. This bill is in the House Transportation & Public Safety Committee, where AHA volunteers have already testified in support.  We are optimistic that this bill will either be attached to another in Lame Duck or receive its full slate of hearings and be passed on its own merits. If not, we will most likely see a reintroduction of this bill in 2023. Raise your voice with us today! 

At the local level, Cleveland is leading the way with a Complete Streets policy that will require that all road construction and reconstruction projects create complete streets that are safe and convenient for diverse users and all modes of transportation. We applaud the AHA Cleveland Team for their effort in getting this accomplished and the City of Cleveland Councilors for their interest in their work toward the creation of a safe, equitable multimodal transportation network. The citizens of Cleveland will greatly benefit from the strategy of requiring every road construction and reconstruction project makes a street safe and comfortable for all users, preferably with prioritization of investment in communities that have historically been underserved. This ordinance passed unanimously on June 6.

A Complete Streets policy may be traveling down I-71 to Cincinnati as well.  We are in the process of working to finalize a policy draft with the help of Councilman Mark Jeffreys, the Sierra Club, and TriState Trails that would implement a complete streets model for all future road projects in The Queen City.  The ordinance is currently being reviewed by the City Legal Department and should be released for additional comments and proposed changes in mid-July. The Councilman is proposing an August introduction date. To send your e-mail to Councilors, just click! 

Back north again in Cleveland, they are continuing to work with local health organizations, community groups, and the City Council to finalize an ordinance that would set nutrition standards for at least 2, or 25% (whichever is greater), children’s meals that meet certain nutrition standards.  The policy would apply to meals promoted on menus/menu boards, as well as those offered through the ordering process. To make the healthy choice an easy choice, the healthy meal options must be promoted or highlighted on the menus. As mentioned earlier, more and more families are eating outside the home. This will make eating healthy a much easier option for parents and families on the go. A draft ordinance has been shared with the City Council Health Committee members and we are awaiting their feedback. The next steps involve the engagement of other stakeholders including the restaurant industry. Please take 30 seconds now to send your e-mail of support! 

In Kent, in Northeast Ohio, and Hilliard, a suburb of Columbus, the AHA is actively working with the local health departments, City Councilors, and other public health organizations to implement a Tobacco Retail License. Too often we hear stories of children being sold tobacco products, thus providing an avenue for a lifetime addiction to nicotine. This is evident in the schools where resource officers and teachers are daily combatting the vaping epidemic in our youth. These retail licenses will provide the health departments with the resources and enforcement authority to conduct annual compliance checks to ensure retailers are not selling these products to underage customers. With strong retail licensure requirements, tobacco retailers and the tobacco industry can be held accountable for violations of tobacco control laws. These requirements will allow officials to know exactly where tobacco products are being sold and provide stronger oversight through regular compliance checks. Fees collected from retail licensing ensure funding for compliance checks and enforcement of tobacco laws without additional costs to taxpayers. Both policies are in the drafting stages and advocacy for their passage of them is in full effect with e-mails being sent to Councilors asking them to support the proposals. If you live in Kent, please send your e-mail to Council now! 

As you can see, the American Heart Association in Ohio is working overtime to ensure everyone has the ability to live longer, healthier lives. This work, again, could not be accomplished without the help of YOU, our volunteers, our staff, and our health departments that work daily to ensure that every citizen in their respective communities has the ways and means to accomplish that shared goal.

We're looking forward to a productive, healthy new fiscal year and we hope you will remain by our side as we champion these policies and many more.Dustin Holfinger

With Heart,

Dustin Holfinger, Ohio Government Relations Director
American Heart Association

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