FEMA to cover COVID-19 costs for NYC hospitals

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The de Blasio administration, through NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health, announced plans Thursday to open a third Outposted Therapeutic Housing Unit, located at NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx.
Photo New York City Mayor’s Office

New York City’s public hospitals secured a win on Wednesday, as they will finally receive overdue federal reimbursement for their crucial work during the city’s COVID-19 crisis.

In front of Mott Haven’s Lincoln Hospital, one of the “hardest-hit” hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that FEMA will finally reimburse all 11 NYC Health + Hospitals (H+H), an estimated $600 million in funds used to cover pandemic needs and costs throughout its system.

Additional expenses could bring the total reimbursement package to $1 billion.

H+H which had allocated the funds from their own pockets to cover shortages in PPE, ventilators and medication during the throes of the pandemic, has been waiting for FEMA assistance since October.

After spending roughly $890 million of its own funds in October, H+H filed a reimbursement request with FEMA for roughly $900 million for staffing and capacity related expenses. However, FEMA had only agreed to cover less than a third of the request, citing that H+H was ineligible to receive full reimbursement because they “had conflated regular hospital expenses with emergency coronavirus operations.”

Calls for FEMA to act grew louder when Democrats, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, called out the federal agency to reimburse the 11-hospital system in a July 23 press conference in front of Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.

Schumer expressed relief on Wednesday, stating, “The bottom line is: Today we want to thank FEMA. We got this done.”

De Blasio commended Schumer, Torres and Dr. Mitchell Katz, H+H president and CEO, for their work on the ground, while also praising the city’s public hospitals for their crucial role during the city’s months, in 2020, as a COVID-19 epicenter.

“I remember every minute of March and April 2020. Lincoln was one of the hardest hit hospitals in all of New York City. We need to talk about Elmhurst. We need to talk about Bellevue,” the mayor said. “We need to talk about every H + H hospital, and some of our brother and sister hospitals, independents, who went through so much, but in the end, H + H hospitals were the tip of the spear. And Lincoln was one of the ones that took on the toughest mission.”

During the pandemic, Lincoln’s emergency room bed capacity was expanded by 120% and its Intensive Care Unit by 316%, according to Schumer.

Hospitals, 911 and emergency medical services agencies — including fire service and certain private nonprofit services — are eligible to apply for a 75% federal cost-share reimbursement from FEMA for certain costs related to the COVID-19 response.

Katz, on Wednesday, noted that the leadership of de Blasio and the city’s financial accommodations and flexibility allowed short-staffed and short-supplied H+H hospitals to procure more supplies and staff to withstand the harshest waves of the coronavirus.

“We were short on staffing and the Mayor never questioned whether or not we would get fully reimbursed … but he still said, ‘do it now, do whatever you have to do.’ And I’m very grateful sir,” Katz said. “You saved lives, and the people here at Lincoln were amazing heroes through that awful time.”

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