Hudson Headwaters Health Network has been awarded $1.9 million in emergency funding to help defray the costs of combating Coronavirus, the federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration has announced.
The emergency funds, included in a $1.3 billion relief package for the nation’s 1,387 federally qualified health centers, were appropriated by Congress through the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) act, signed into law March 27.
The funds are to be used “to detect, prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19,” the HRSA stated.
“These health centers are part of the backbone of our nation’s health care system, serving one in twelve people nationwide,” HRSA Administrator Tom Engels said in an April 8 press release. “Increasingly, people are turning to health centers for the first line of defense in combating emergency public health priorities like the novel coronavirus. Health centers will put these resources to immediate use to respond to emerging and evolving local needs and continue to deliver high quality primary health care services to their patients.”
Immediate funding is necessary in part because “health centers are hurting,” explained Leo Fishel, a consultant with the HRSA’s Bureau of Primary Health Care. “People are avoiding coming in for routine care, school health sites are closed, dental, vision and similar services have been shut down except for emergencies, and some states have imposed a variety of restrictions on operations.”
“This emergency funding will help ease some of the financial burden on the network as a whole, covering unanticipated expenses surrounding its COVID-19 response,” said Jane Hooper, a spokeswoman for Hudson Headwaters.
According to Hooper, Hudson Headwaters will use the emergency funds to help pay for: COVID-19 testing kits; increased supplies, including materials to create separate spaces for patients with or suspected of having COVID-19, such as drive-through tents; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other items to protect providers, staff and patients; the renovation of spaces to maximize distancing; and equipment for telehealth or mobile health services related to COVID-19.
“Hudson Headwaters will also use the funds to ensure that patients continue to receive appropriate medical care for other conditions, while, at the same time, protecting patients and Hudson Headwaters staff potential COVID-19 exposures,” said Hooper.
The funds will have no effect on Hudson Headwaters’ recent decision to furlough roughly 85 employees, said Hooper. According to the HRSA, the funding cannot be directed toward salary-related expenses
According to Dr. Tucker Slingerland, Hudson Headwaters’ CEO, even more funding for community health centers will be required in the months ahead.
“This public health crisis is not expected to end suddenly, and rural institutions will be required to provide ongoing patient testing, care and education for many months. This will be especially important as testing evolves and primary care providers, along with public health agencies, will be responsible for ensuring that its community members and patients will remain safe from illness,” said Slingerland.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have announced that Congressional Democrats support an additional $100 billion for hospitals, community health centers and health systems, ten billion of which would be directed toward health centers.
“After we pass interim emergency legislation, Congress will move to pass a CARES 2 Act that will extend and expand the bipartisan CARES Act to meet the needs of the American people,” the two stated in a joint press release issued April 8.
Rep. Elise Stefanik said in a conference call with local media on April 8 that funding for community health centers should be distributed according a formula that takes into account a region’s relative needs.
“New York has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and our Community Health Centers are on the frontlines of response in the North Country,” said Stefanik. “These Community Health Centers are essential partners in community and state-wide efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, and it is crucial that we provide them with adequate funding and resources to continue their important work.”
In a press release, Dr. Slingerland thanked Rep. Stefanik, Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand for their efforts to secure funding for Hudson Headwaters and the nation’s other Community Health Centers.
“Their leadership on this bipartisan effort is exactly the kind of cooperation we are seeing on the front lines among our regional hospital partners and health care allies. More funding and resources will be crucial as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds and we look forward to continued cooperation and progress on all fronts,” said Slingerland.