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My Turn: New Hampshire’s frontline health care providers deserve funding and support

For the Monitor
Published: 10/24/2021 7:30:10 AM

Over the last month, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified in New Hampshire, with more hospitalizations and deaths tragically trending upwards. Wentworth-Douglass Hospital reported reaching 140% of capacity last month. Rural communities like those in the North Country are particularly hard-hit – Lancaster, Northumberland and Whitefield are at the highest caseload levels in months, catching the attention of local emergency management directors. Alpine Healthcare Center in Keene has struggled to contain an outbreak that’s affected nearly 100 residents and staff members since August. The crisis is so dire that long-term care facilities are considering shuttering because of the financial toll and staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.

It’s clear that support and resources can’t come soon enough to health care providers. That’s why I’ve met with providers across the state over the last two years to discuss what they need to deliver life-saving care to Granite Staters during this public health emergency. I’ve taken their concerns to guide my work in Congress, and I worked across bipartisan lines to ensure providers can handle the surge in demand for their services without going bankrupt.

In 2020, I advances legislation to ensure our providers would not be burdened with overly harsh repayment terms on loans made by the federal government to combat COVID. My bipartisan bill to prevent substantial cuts to Medicare payments to health care providers throughout the pandemic also became law last year.

Most recently, Congress allocated $178 billion during the pandemic through the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) to help ensure hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers on the frontlines keep their doors open and continue to care for their patients. I’ve worked hard to make sure this money gets to New Hampshire’s providers.

During negotiations of the CARES Act, securing additional funding for providers was a top priority and I pushed the Trump administration to more quickly award funding. Heeding my calls, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also changed its formula that penalized New Hampshire and failed to recognize the serious outbreaks facing our state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Due to this advocacy, hundreds of millions of dollars have since flowed to providers across our state.

There’s been a true bipartisan spirit on display in Congress to strengthen the Provider Relief Fund (PRF). Last month, when a GAO report found that 25% of PRF allocated by Congress was still unspent, I called on HHS alongside Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, to immediately distribute the funds. We also joined together to successfully prevent funding from the PRF to be used as a pay-for in the bipartisan infrastructure package.

Thanks to our bipartisan partnership, last month HHS announced it would release unspent funding. And now we’re one step closer to delivering that $25.5 billion in funding: portal for providers to apply is currently available. This includes the $8.5 billion rural set aside I pushed for, as well as $17 billion to support a broad range of providers with changes in operating revenues and expenses.

This week, I helped lead a letter to HHS Secretary Becerra urging the department to follow the intent of Congress and ensure that the rural set aside funding be delivered to providers who serve rural patients, not large metropolitan providers who typically have better access to funding and resources. Now that the portal is open, I encourage health care providers across the state to apply by the October 26th deadline.

The public health crisis our communities have experienced over the last two years is unprecedented. It has left hospitals strained, homes empty and communities mourning. We still aren’t in the clear from this pandemic. Our health care heroes are still on the front lines delivering care, and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure they have what they need to continue their incredible work. Together, by following science and empowering our health care professionals, we’ll get to the other side of this crisis.

(​​​​​​Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator.)




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