Culpeper Star-Exponent: Spanberger unplugs U.S. relief fund: $163M for Virginia health-care providers, senior homes

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released $163 million in CARES Act emergency aid to help Virginia’s health-care workers and patients as they combat COVID-19, Rep. Abigail Spanberger announced Wednesday.

The award will enable health-care providers and senior-living centers to recruit and keep staff, buy masks and other supplies, modernize facilities and cover other expenses from the coronavirus pandemic. HHS said it will begin paying providers this week.

Before Wednesday, HHS had not released any Provider Relief Fund money in 2021 to compensate providers for expenses from COVID’s Delta-variant surge.

Spanberger pressed HHS to release the money after Virginia hospitals and nursing homes telegraphed their concerns about the holdup, the congresswoman said in a statement.

“This announcement is long overdue,” Spanberger said. “For the thousands of Virginia men and women working in our hospitals and clinics, the past two years have been marked by an ever-raging battle to keep their patients safe and healthy, protect their families, and make sure their doors remain open. In the face of the continued threats posed by the Delta and Omicron variants, delays in Provider Relief Fund payments only make their lives more difficult.”

She thanked HHS for the aid. “But we are nowhere near finished in our response to the pandemic and in our efforts to keep our doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and assisted living employees safe,” the Virginia Democrat said. “In the weeks and months ahead, I will keep working to give additional certainty to our health-care providers, cut red tape and provide additional flexibility so providers can put this funding to work.”

In March 2020, Congress created the Provider Relief Fund as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It will help all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

But distributing money from the fund was plagued by changing guidance, confusing tax information, burdensome restrictions and sporadic technical problems, Spanberger said.6

In April 2021, she led a 59-member, bipartisan push urging HHS to quickly distribute remaining funds to operators of senior-living facilities in Central Virginia and across the country.

Last month, Spanberger introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure relief-fund money is distributed to health-care providers trying to protect their workers and patients from the recent COVID-19 surges.

Keith Hare, president of the Virginia Health Care Association and the Virginia Center for Assisted Living, said Spanberger’s proposed Provider Relief Improvement Act would ensure HHS provides continued funding in a timely way.

“When the pandemic started, no one could have envisioned that it would last this long and we cannot let our guard down,” Hare said in a statement. “Representative Spanberger has advocated for resources to protect seniors from Day One. This legislation is another example of her leadership.”

Beth O’Connor, executive director of the Virginia Rural Health Association, said the state’s rural providers need the aid to combat COVID-19, protect their workers and support their patients’ access to care.

“Congress should move quickly to pass Rep. Spanberger’s bipartisan Provider Relief Fund Improvement Act to distribute the remainder of the Provider Relief Fund as quickly as possible and extend the deadline to ensure rural providers have sufficient flexibility to use these funds to fight COVID-19 in their communities,” O’Connor said.

The Virginian’s bill would require HHS to distribute remaining Relief Fund dollars by March 31, 2022, eliminate bureaucratic burdens over reporting deadlines and let recipients invest in workplace and employee safety. That change would enable facilities to finance trauma support for their workers and buy panic buttons and secure locks.

The 7th Congressional District representative’s proposal is endorsed by the American Hospital Association, Argentum, America’s Essential Hospitals, Medical Group Management Association and National Rural Health Association.

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