Perspective: A Boost for the Continuing Fight Against COVID-19

The heroic efforts of our hospitals, health systems and care teams in fighting the pandemic over the past 17 months is a testament to the dedication and determination of the best health professionals in the world. 

Former AHA Chair Sister Irene Kraus captured it best when she said, “no margin, no mission.” Clearly, in order to treat patients, save lives and keep people and communities healthy, hospitals must remain financially viable. The $178 billion authorized in several COVID-19 relief bills by Congress through the Provider Relief Fund has been a lifeline for many hospitals and health systems, and allowed them to continue to put the health and safety of patients first and ensure that the doors were kept open and the lights burning.

As you probably know, the Department of Health and Human Services had set June 30 as the deadline for hospitals and health care providers to use their PRF payments to replace lost revenues and cover the costs of preparing and caring for COVID-19 patients. Last week, we urged HHS to extend the June 30 deadline to the end of the public health emergency. Seventy-seven representatives in the House — from both sides of the aisle — also weighed in with HHS this week and urged the extension by a full calendar year.  

Extending the deadline will allow hospitals and health systems to use their PRF payments toward costs they continue to incur as they fight COVID-19. These include expenses related to COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, such as ensuring an adequate workforce, acquiring equipment and supplies such as personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals and safety equipment, and maintaining testing and additional screening for every hospital patient. 

At the same time, we continue to urge HHS to distribute the remaining PRF payments, including the $8.5 billion allocated to rural hospitals from the American Rescue Plan Act, as soon as possible to get that assistance to providers quickly. 

The steady spread of vaccinations throughout the country has helped us turn a corner in the long battle against the pandemic. But make no mistake, we are not out of the woods. Yesterday, we saw over 38,000 new COVID-19 cases and 802 deaths. COVID-19 is still here and still a major health threat. It is essential that our hospitals and caregivers have the resources to continue caring for patients, comforting families and protecting communities.