Incoming legislation in the House and Senate looks to give back to Pennsylvania’s “health care heroes” with $650 million in grant funding.
From closing down elective surgeries to testing and vaccinating for COVID-19 – and integrating telehealth to a historic number of patients – Pennsylvania hospitals have had their hands full with large-scale changes to their operations.
The Health Care Heroes and Public Health Preparedness Act, legislation soon to be introduced in both houses of the legislature, would use funds from the $7.2 billion in federal funds set aside for Pennsylvania through the American Rescue Plan Act to help hospitals and hospital systems strengthen their workforce, maintain public health infrastructure and more.
“This is designed as a grant program,” said Andy Carter, president of the Hospital and Healthsystem association of Pennsylvania (HAP) during a press conference announcing the legislation. “It’s an opportunity for each member hospital to identify their highest priority needs and show the Commonwealth how they will advance health care in their community.”
A report by the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council published earlier this year found that from January to September of 2020, Pennsylvania hospitals reported $4.9 billion in COVID-19 related expenses and revenue loss.
If the state act is signed into law, hospitals and hospital systems could apply for grant funding for programs such as employee counseling and resiliency initiatives, training programs for care delivery models such as telemedicine, and retention initiatives for high-need clinical staff.
“We know what you did in the last year and a half in retooling your hospitals and treating those who needed treatment from COVID and now helping to vaccinate Pennsylvania,” said State Rep. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland). “We also know that you gave up the more elective surgeries and have suffered just like the rest of our economy has suffered through COVID.”
The act would help address behavioral health capacity issues among both patients and providers, according to Dr. Erika Saunders, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
“The impact on people with mental illness, addiction and intellectual disabilities has been profound due to the disruption in services and community support and the stress on our workers in frontline industries has created the second epidemic of distress and despair,” said Saunders.
The bill are expected to soon be introduced in their respective chambers with Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver, Greene and Washington) as prime sponsor of the Senate bill and Rothman and State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia) as the co-prime sponsors of the House bill.
The legislation is expected to be swept into the state’s larger discussions regarding the state budget, which will close at the end of the state’s fiscal year in June.