Sen. Lucas’ Record Shows No Concern for Poor Health of Her Constituents

by James C. Sherlock

Senator Louise Lucas

I mentioned Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, prominently in my essay yesterday in which I criticized the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

To illustrate the point, I have reviewed Sen. Lucas’ sponsorship of bills concerning health care that came before the Senate Education and Health Committee of which she was Chairwoman in 2020 and a senior member in 2019, 2018 and 2017.

The list is missing something — a show of concern for the health of her constituents.

As a reminder, the Virginian-Pilot has recently reported about Sen. Lucas’s home area:

“Eastern Virginia lags behind the state and nation in infant mortality, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Most of these poor rankings reflect disparities with minority and low-income populations.”

“For instance, the infant death rate in Virginia and the United States was 5.8 out of 1,000 live births in 2017. But in Norfolk, the rate of Black baby deaths was 18.2.”

“Regarding prostate cancer, the national death rate was 19.5 out of 100,000 lives in 2015. But in Portsmouth, Black men died at a rate of 66.5 out of 100,000 — nearly four times that of white men in the city.

I reported yesterday:

“Senator Lucas, the senior member of the VLBC, represents Portsmouth. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2020 ranked 133 Virginia jurisdictions in health outcomes and health factors. Out of 133, Portsmouth was ranked 114th in health outcomes and 117th in health factors. Her district is the epicenter of the Eastern Virginia black health issues cited above.”

So let’s look at the total bills sponsored by Sen. Lucas by year:

  • In 2020, Chief Patron (10), Chief Co-patron (3) or Co-Patron (9), a total of 22 Senate Bills
  • In 2019, Chief Patron (10), Co-Patron (18), a total of 28
  • In 2018, Chief Patron (14), Co-Patron (19), a total of 33

Five of the 83 bills she sponsored over those three years addressed health care issues that came before her Education and Health Committee.

Of those five, three were corrections to existing law of limited impact.

As for the other two:,

  • one was a bill specifically to help Sentara by bringing free-standing emergency rooms under COPN in Sentara’s home base in Hampton Roads; and
  • the other a bill to make it illegal to deny abortions to minors of any age

They included:

  • 2020 SB 983 Certificate of public need; definition of “medical care facility,” facilities subject to review. Summary:

“Adds to the list of medical care facilities for which a certificate of public need is required any facility located in Planning District 20* that has common ownership with an affiliated licensed hospital located within 35 miles of the facility and that includes, as part of the facility, a dedicated emergency department.”

  • 2020 SB 635 Right to reproductive choice; right to refuse contraception. Key provision:

“The Commonwealth shall not discriminate in the protection or enforcement of these fundamental rights (abortion and contraception) on the basis of (among others) age.”

*Planning District 20 includes Southampton, Isle of Wight, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Franklin — home to both of Sentara’s base monopoly and Sen. Lucas’ district.

Bottom Line

So Louise Lucas sponsored:

  • no bill to improve primary care for poor, disproportionately sick minorities in areas like her own district;
  • no bill to increase the number of state healthcare facilities inspectors to fix the critical shortages there, even after the scandalous nursing home COVID death rate exacerbated by staff shortages that are the subject of state inspections of staffing; and
  • no bill to audit massive tax exempt health care corporations like Sentara to see whether they have historically contributed what they should to improving community healthcare for the poor to earn their massive state and local tax exemptions.

Looking further back, in 2017 she served as patron for three bills supporting casino and riverboat gambling, which always hurts the poorest citizens the worst, and no bill to improve the health of her constituents. Not coincidently, she has received $22,000 in campaign donations from gambling interests.

For those of you keeping score in Sen. Lucas’ bill sponsorship over four years: gambling interests 3, improved healthcare for her constituents 0.

Any concern Sen. Lucas may have for tragically poor health conditions among her constituents is utterly absent from the bills she has sponsored over that time.

Her concern for Sentara’s welfare, though, is well rewarded. Her biggest donor class by far is the healthcare industry who, as we mentioned yesterday, has given her $275,000.

She should be ashamed of herself.