By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
After months of negotiations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and U.S. Congress Member Ritchie Torres delivered $1 billion emergency relief to New York City Health+Hospitals on Jan. 12, to cover the exorbitant costs of caring for patients during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is great news. I leaned on FEMA and the White House. Our hospitals were getting stiffed,” Schumer said. “The rules didn’t make any sense.”
Schumer announced the arrival of the $1 billion FEMA COVID-19 emergency reimbursement at a Jan. 5 press conference with Torres, Mayor Eric Adams, DC 37 leaders Carmen Charles and Anthony Wells, and NYC H+H top officials.
Schumer appealed to President Biden to have FEMA release 100% of the much-needed reimbursement to NYC H+H, the nation’s largest public healthcare system, to cover the costs for COVID-19 care for patients, personal safety and respiratory equipment and additional staffing. The federal funds were tied up in bureaucratic red tape. In 2020, FEMA only sent NYC H+H $226 million, or about 25% of the funds it had requested, he said.
“From the outset, I knew Senator Schumer and Congressman Torres were both committed to fighting for us to ensure that Health+Hospitals was fairly reimbursed,” said Local 420 President Carmen Charles. “Our members are essential workers who have the gargantuan task of fighting the pandemic in the worst hit communities of New York City. This $1 billion will ensure that Health+Hospitals can continue to provide services to patients and job security for my members, who fought– and are still fighting– on the frontlines.”
When the coronavirus outbreak hit New York City in 2020, public hospitals and its staff of essential employees treated thousands of patients who were sickened by the mysterious and deadly virus. They continue to treat thousands more who have contracted COVID-19 as the Delta and Omicron variants surge.
To date, New York City has over 2 million cases of COVID-19 more than 36,000 deaths. The situation at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens was especially critical in 2020. Elmhurst and Bellevue hospitals were so inundated, they used refrigerated trucks as makeshift morgues.
“New York City was the earliest epicenter of the coronavirus. NYC Health+Hospitals was hit the hardest because they serve the most vulnerable among us,” Torres said. “COVID 19 affects all of us, but those effects are often uneven. It has a disproportionately more deadly impact on the very communities that Health+Hospitals exists to serve in the lowest income communities of color.”
“The healthcare heroes of Health+Hospitals are the most essential of the essential workers. They are the heartbeat of New York City,” said Torres.
“Both Majority Leader Schumer and Representative Torres believe strongly in public healthcare and in what we do for the people of New York City,” Charles said.
“We thank Senator Schumer and Congressman Torres for their efforts to obtain these needed funds for NYC Health+Hospitals,” said SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells. “We applaud their commitment to the public hospital system and the members that work within it. Clearly, NYC H+H has played a critical role during the pandemic and saved many lives. We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Schumer and Congressman Torres to ensure that public hospitals get the aid and support they need.”
On Jan. 6, the City Council announced that it would allocate an extra $111 million to NYC H+H public hospitals.