COVID-19 in Pa.: Hospitals seek another aid package from Wolf, lawmakers

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    Barely two weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature authorized a $50 million emergency aid fund for Pennsylvania’s hospitals, the industry says it’s looking for more financial assistance from state government as its bottom line takes a continued battering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The proposed coronavirus relief fund would provide resources for hospitals and healthcare providers. And the money would only be accessed “only after all sources have been tapped,” Andy Carter, CEO of the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania, said during an online news conference Thursday.

    Carter could not say Thursday how large an appropriation the industry was seeking from state government. Nor could he identify a potential funding source. It would be one part of a push for financial relief that also includes tax forgiveness and liability protection for frontline physicians and providers.

    “What we’re doing right now is identifying the scope of the problem we face,” he said, adding, “the vastness of the burden demands careful attention.”

    If approved, the fund would not only come on top of the state-authorized emergency fund, administered by the state Department of Health, but also the $100 billion in federal assistance to hospitals included in the recently enacted, $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill known as the CARES Act.

    Carter told journalists Thursday that hospitals statewide are losing $1.5 billion to $2 billion a month through the cancelation of elective surgeries and other actions as the hospital community reorients itself to tackle the pandemic. Health systems statewide have furloughed employees as those surgeries have been canceled and primary care clinics have been shuttered, the Morning Call of Allentown reported.

    Lawmakers, Wolf admin., Pa. hospitals are negotiating COVID-19 emergency relief fund

    “The strain is enormous,” Carter told reporters. “And it is complicating the effort that’s underway at these hospitals to ensure we have the ability to pay employees and keep them ready to respond.”

    Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, confirmed Thursday that House GOP leaders are “engaging with [the hospital association] on a variety of issues as the pandemic evolves.” But, he added, “any discussions on an additional funding plan are very early on.”

    During an online briefing Thursday, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the state was aware the pandemic had “put a significant strain on hospitals and health systems across the commonwealth,” and the administration would be “looking for resources to help.”

    Asked Thursday how the proposed fund would differ from the already approved state aid package, Carter said the new fund would be more specifically tailored to help address costs from the pandemic.

    “The initial fund was designed to address equipment and supply needs,” he said. “It’s a very valuable contribution, but this is designed to be more broadly available to help [all] providers.”

    Carter could not say Thursday how much aid Pennsylvania hospitals could expect to receive through the federal COVID-19 relief bill. The first $30 billion of that money is expected to be distributed this week, according to Healthcare Dive, an industry publication.

    John L. Micek
    A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press