A package of bills signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, March 1, is intended to boost the number of medical professionals in the state and provide solutions to issues such as mental health treatment. Supporters of the bill say it will improve overall access to health care statewide.

“What they are tackling right now are some of the biggest challenges that we face in the Sunshine State,” said John Couris, CEO and President of the Tampa General Hospital, “And that’s access to health care in a reliable, reproducible, sustainable kind of a way.” He participated in a bill-signing event held in Bonita Springs. Senator Kathleen Passidomo, who made it her priority to pass these bills as part of what she called the “Live Healthy” initiative, said, “Unfortunately, the new Floridians are not bringing their healthcare providers with them” when discussing the healthcare needs of the state’s rapidly expanding population. “We’re going to change that. The good news is that Live Healthy will help grow Florida’s healthcare workforce, increase access, and incentivize innovation so Floridians can have more options and opportunities to live healthy here in the Sunshine State.”

Couris spoke of similar problems, as he went on to say, “We’re facing a myriad of challenges in the healthcare industry, in the healthcare system. There are critical shortages in the healthcare workforce. We’ve seen exceptional growth in labor costs. Patients are struggling to access the care they need, and the demand for behavioral health services is at a record high.”

While DeSantis signed five bills and the Bonita Springs event, significant attention has been paid to SB 7016, which includes sweeping measures amounting to $717 million in new spending. Among the bill’s measures is a provision of funds to increase residency slots for doctors and provide loan forgiveness programs to healthcare professionals. The bill also takes steps to make it easier for foreign-trained physicians to legally practice in Florida.

“Healthcare workforce is a challenge,” Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo said at the signing event. “It’s tough to get appointments oftentimes, especially with specialty physicians. It’s tough to get a physical therapy appointment. It’s tough to see a nurse practitioner.”

Other features of SB 7016 include steps to keep non-emergency patients out of hospital emergency rooms by redirecting them to their primary care physicians or qualified health centers. It also authorizes some advanced birth centers to provide cesarean-section deliveries, even in the case of low-risk pregnancies, a surgical procedure previously reserved for hospitals.

Four other bills were signed at the event. SB 1758 affects programs for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, and SB 322 makes it possible for certain healthcare professionals to obtain a public records exemption. SB 7018 provides $50 million per year for a loan funding program to help with health innovation projects.

SB 330 provides $100 million in funding over three years for behavioral health teaching hospitals, designating four such hospitals linked to universities. “I’ve said, look, I want more beds for mental-health patients, particularly people that are not able to function in society,” said Gov. DeSantis. “And so this is going to be, I think, a key component of that, and I think it’s something that’s going to be very, very meaningful.” The bill provides further funding, which can be used for residency positions, psychiatrists, and similar features.