Congress needs to act soon to provide $100 billion in direct funding to frontline healthcare personnel, hospitals and and other medical facilities dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, according to a letter from the leaders of three healthcare professional organizations.
The letter, dated March 19, is addressed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and lays out the dire straits healthcare providers are finding themselves in now that the number of coronavirus patients is ballooning and starting to overwhelm healthcare facilities.
It is signed by American Hospital Association President and CEO Richard J. Pollack, American Medical Association Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, and American Nurses Association Enterprise CEO Loressa Cole.
In a March 21 press briefing, Pollack laid out the problem facing hospitals.
“We’ve already seen facilities facing shortages of needed equipment and high expenses in providing critical care and this hurts our country’s ability to respond,” Pollack says. “…The reality is that we are in a war in which hospitals and health systems are on the frontlines and our health care workers are putting their lives on the line to fight this battle … No one ever sends their troops into battle without the right protection and ammunition and tools.”
The March 19 letter notes the dwindling supplies of N95 respirators, isolation gowns, isolation masks, surgical masks, eye protective equipment, intensive care unit equipment, and diagnostic testing supplies in areas already dealing with outbreaks of the disease; the financial cost to hospitals and practices treating those who have contracted the disease; and the strain put on healthcare workers who need access to child care due to schools closing across the country.
These strains have already led to the Trump administration requesting physicians and hospitals limit elective surgeries and procedures, but the letter notes this move results in financial hardship for the institutions.
Due to the limit on elective surgeries and procedures, hospitals like Three Rivers and North Valley Hospital in rural Washington are seeing drops in revenue, CEO Scott Graham said in the press briefing.
“The revenue that typically comes in that we need to cover the cost of operating has dried up,” Graham says. “…we are now in a negative cash position and are using credit. We will exhaust all avenues to make payroll in the next three or four weeks.”
“Congress needs to assist hospitals, physician practices and other providers on the brink of financial collapse so they are able to make payroll to front line health care personnel and all employees in order to ensure that as many inpatient beds as possible are available during this pandemic,” the letter says.
The letter lays out three priorities congress should consider:
The first is creating a stabilization fund for emergency expenses related to the coronavirus including covering the loss of revenue due to the suspension of elective services, testing costs, additional training for healthcare personnel on pandemic preparedness plans and telehealth, increased costs due to increased staffing levels, and more.
The second is providing childcare to frontline healthcare personnel through direct funding to the personnel or facility or partnering with schools and daycare centers to provide funding.
The third priority is providing funding for the capacity to care for those patients mildly or moderately sick with the disease in alternative care site when they cannot care for themselves at home leaving more room for those patients who are in need of more intensive care.