Schumer Pushes for More Relief for WNY Hospitals amid COVID Crisis
Sen. Chuck Schumer has pledged to do what he can to see that Wyoming County Community Health System (WCCHS) and other hospitals in Western New York get the financial relief they need amid the omicron COVID variant and the COVID cases overwhelming hospitals.
The state Department of Health has ordered 32 hospitals, including WCCHS, to stop offering elective surgery to make sure they are prepared for COVID.
“That takes money away from this hospital. If they don’t get money for elective surgery, they can’t pay all their employees,” Schumer said. “You lose a nurse or a clerical worker and they never come back, as we’re seeing. That’s terrible.”
Schumer today talked about a two-pronged plan to help hospitals in Western New York, “which are now under more duress than they’ve been,” he said.
“First, I’m urging Health and Human Services (HHS) to stop using old data and prioritize the hospitals that are facing the current crisis, like Wyoming,” he said. “There’s $17 billion still sitting there of money we allocate. If they use the old formulas, this hospital will get very little. If they use a new formula, based on COVID, based on stopping elective surgery, the hospital will get a lot more money. That’s important.”
Schumer said when WCCHS and other hospitals applied for the $17 billion, Phase 4 round funding, it was a month ago.
“The data didn’t reflect the recent increase in the surge of COVID,” he said. “We now have 30 financially distressed hospitals in New York ... They’re on the front lines. They need this help.” Schumer said once HHS redoes the formula, he’s asking that the agency gets money out as soon as possible.
“They (hospitals) can’t wait. If money’s not coming in, than they can’t pay the nurses or the doctors or the clerical workers,” he said. “Right now ... we have a specific problem at many of our Upstate hospitals. We need to get the money out quickly and I’m going to fight tooth and nail to make sure Wyoming County Hospital and hospitals like it, particularly smaller, rural hospitals, but even hospitals like ECMC (Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo) and Strong Memorial (in Rochester), having trouble as well — we need to get help to all of them.”
Schumer said WCCHS has gotten about $6.25 million in relief and $664 million went to hospitals throughout Western New York. WCCHS CEO Joseph McTernan said the health system has met the pandemic head-on since the beginning.
“The response has been 21 months long and, although tired, our incredible team continues to provide exceptional care for all those who come through our doors,” he said. “Infection rates in our region are spiking and our hospitals are over capacity. WCCHS is one of 32 hospitals in New York with fewer than 10% bed capacity. We need all hands on deck to care for the increasing number of patients being admitted while addressing the burden of increased costs required to provide this care.”
WCCHS, McTernan said, has seen great support from government leaders at the county, state and federal levels.
“Through the federal COVID relief bills championed by Senator Schumer, WCCHS has already received over $6 million in federal aid. This helped sustain us so far,” he said. “Now that the pandemic is worsening again, we appreciate Senator Schumer’s push to help significantly impacted hospitals like WCCHS access additional federal relief funding.”
Jim Brick, Perry town supervisor, mentioned an issue facing EMS agencies in rural New York.
“In the town of Perry, we run a not-for-profit ambulance (the town of Perry Ambulance Service). We take Medicare patients and there’s a number of ICF (immediate care facility) homes who take them, we get less,” he said. “I understand the Medicare rates are set by the Legislature."
Schumer said, “I’m always fighting to get increases in rural ambulance money, very successfully over the last few years, and we’re trying to do that again in the next upcoming budget in February.”
Brick said after the press conference that Medicare pays the Ambulance Service only so much every time it transports someone on Medicare.
“Maybe it will only be half of what it normally is,” Brick said of the current rates. “It’s a little less than what we get from health insurance companies.”
Brick said he asked Schumer about a possible increase in the rates Medicare would pay an agency like the town of Perry Ambulance Service. Schumer said this year on his tour of the counties, when he’s talked to people about what was needed, such as at WCCHS, to get people back on their feet and doing better than or just as well as before:
“What I learned visiting the counties (were) so many things. I’d meet restauranteurs early in the year and they’d say our PPP (Paycheck Protection Program money) is running out. If we don’t get more money, we’ll be really messed up. I’d meet at hospitals and they’d talk to me about their huge problems. I’d visit local governments and they’d say to me, ‘Make sure we get the money. If you send it all to Albany, we’re never going to see it. The legislation I helped craft as majority leader was based on my tours of the 62 counties.”
Schumer said getting the money delivered is important, but so is making sure the money goes where it’s needed in the right way.
“It so happens, Wyoming County, in the last 14 days, hospital rates have increased 72%; in Erie County, 70%. So, the crisis is far from over,” he said.
Wyoming County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Rebecca Ryan said, “It’s perfect timing to have you down here at the hospital, given what we’re going through ... I want to thank the senator for helping us at the county level with American Rescue (Plan Act) money paid direct to the county ... and also for the CARES Act, the money that has come to the hospital thus far and also for your support in helping us get the remainder of it. It’s really needed.”
Schumer was asked whether there is a way to get federal help for areas of Western New York that were hit by windstorms this weekend.
“I’ve been in touch with a bunch of local officials, my office has, and we are now working on FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to get as much relief as we can get,” He said. “We have already been in touch with FEMA. These windstorms were horrible. Once it’s declared a disaster, which I think it would be, there’ll be money for small businesses, there’ll be money for homeowners both, from FEMA and money from the SBA (Small Business Administration).” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . , , , , ,,, , By Brian Quinnfirstname.lastname@example.org