BY DIANE S. WILLIAMS
In July, DC 37 leaders stood with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Congress member Ritchie Torres at Lincoln Hospital to demand $860 million in emergency reimbursements that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, owes New York City Health+Hospitals.
As New York City quickly became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Schumer and a delegation of New York officials led the campaign for FEMA to reimburse emergency medical expenses.
”This is an injustice that we are fighting to correct,” said Carmen Charles, President of Local 420. “It’s time FEMA cut the bureaucratic red tape and pay up! Our members, along with thousands of other first responders, have worked tirelessly since March 2020 to get New York through this COVID-19 pandemic. We need that money NOW!”
“Listen to this, FEMA,” Schumer said. “H+H expanded its system-wide medical surge capacity by more than 80%, expanded bed capacity by 120%, expanded ICU by 360%. You think this was free? You think this didn’t cost any money?”
In a letter to FEMA head Deanne Criswell, who was New York City’s former emergency management commissioner in the pandemic’s peak months, Schumer and others said it is “unfair to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursement for NYC H+H, who was on the frontlines combatting the first epicenter of COVID-19 in the nation.”
At the July 23 Lincoln Hospital event, Schumer, Ritchie, DC 37’s Charles and Local 371 President Anthony Wells, Lincoln Hospital CEO Christopher Roker and other union leaders called on FEMA to reimburse Health + Hospitals for COVID expenses, chanting, “$860 million, $860 million, $860 million!”
“Our members work in emergency departments have not been updated since Eisenhower administration,” Charles said. “That is an indignation that America must correct. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we must invest in our healthcare system because one person’s health impacts us all.”
Some 8,700 Local 420 members work as essential employees at 11 public hospitals and clinics. Additionally DC Locals 371, 436, 768, 924, 1407, 1549 and others, represent another 9,300 employees who make NYC Health+Hospitals run. NYC H+H is the largest public healthcare system in the nation yet its facilities are notoriously underfunded and short-staffed. Even as most New Yorkers sheltered in place in 2020, Local 420 members and other dedicated essential city employees worked through the pandemic.
“Local 420 lost 25 members to COVID. Hundreds more public workers contracted the insidious virus,” Charles said. “We kept working and carried the brunt of sick and dying patients during this global health crisis. We treat the most vulnerable New Yorkers because that is the mission statement of Lincoln Hospital and the NYC Health+Hospitals system. We take our mission seriously.”
The Delta variant threatens to cause a third COVID surge. Charles said: ”FEMA needs to release the $860 million. We need every dime, every dollar for PPE for workers and to ensure that public hospitals are not forced to turn away anyone in this pandemic.”
Torres said FEMA has paid NYC H+H $266 million to date. “We know that COVID has cost the public hospital system $2 billion, so the $860 million we’re requesting is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We’re coming back for more.”