Spanberger Presses President Biden, HHS to Recognize Severity of RSV, Flu Surge in Virginia & Across Country

According to the CDC, the Rate of Hospitalization for Flu-Like Illnesses is the Highest Since the 2010-2011 Flu Season

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today urged President Joe Biden and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leadership to initiate a national response to surging numbers of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), flu, and mental health patients in hospitals in Virginia and across the country.

Virginia is currently experiencing one of the worst surges of flu and flu-like illnesses in the country. In Virginia, eight percent of all emergency department and urgent care visits, as well as more than 21 percent of pediatric visits were for flu-like illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of hospitalization for the flu and flu-like illnesses is the highest since 2010-2011.

In a letter to President Biden and HHS Secretary Beccera, Spanberger and 10 of her colleagues urged the leaders to declare a Pediatric Health Emergency to provide assistance to pediatric healthcare providers as hospitals become overwhelmed by high numbers of pediatric RSV, flu, and mental health patients. Additionally, the lawmakers underlined the scope of the issue facing hospitals, providers, and patients across the United States.

“Pediatric hospitals across the country are seeing a spike in RSV and influenza cases. As we know from the COVID-19 pandemic, contagious respiratory illnesses can quickly overwhelm hospitals and staff, resulting in shortages in workforce and other resources,” wrote Spanberger and the group of lawmakers. “Beyond RSV and influenza, pediatric beds are also being used for an increasing number of pediatric mental health patients who have nowhere else to go.”

The lawmakers continued, “Your continued support for health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped limit the effect of the virus throughout the country. We hope that you will take similar prompt and preemptive action to aid pediatric hospitals to protect the health and well-being of our nation’s youth and the doctors and practitioners who oversee their care.”

Last month, Spanberger pressed Secretary Beccera and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Administrator Rochelle Walensky for answers as to how their organizations were preparing to help protect Virginia children and seniors, support frontline healthcare providers, and prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses ahead of flu season.

Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is below.

Dear President Biden and Secretary Becerra:

With many of our nation’s pediatric hospitals operating at or near capacity due to a surge in the number of pediatric respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and mental health patients, we urge you to declare a pediatric health emergency to support a national response to assist with children’s health.

We appreciate your administration’s willingness to provide assistance to pediatric health care providers in need of help on a case-by-case basis, but we believe the scope of the problem merits proactive measures. Pediatric hospitals across the country are seeing a spike in RSV and influenza cases. As we know from the COVID-19 pandemic, contagious respiratory illnesses can quickly overwhelm hospitals and staff, resulting in shortages in workforce and other resources. Beyond RSV and influenza, pediatric beds are also being used for an increasing number of pediatric mental health patients who have nowhere else to go. As of November 16, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 79% of pediatric hospital beds were full nationwide and seven states reported capacity levels above 90%. Leading experts project that the incidence rates of respiratory disease will continue to increase throughout the winter, putting further strain on hospitals that are already operating near capacity.

We request that a pediatric health emergency declaration allow for waivers to allow for flexibility for:

  • Conditions of participation that may impede moving patients, use of new spaces for care and adapting to workforce challenges.
  • Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requirements that may impede transferring patients and creating off-site triage to manage capacity challenges.
  • Licensure reciprocity to support cross state care and telehealth.
  • Stark self-referral sanctions.
  • State Medicaid agencies to support telehealth and out-of-state care to allow for a continuum of care.

We appreciate your attention to this critical issue. Your continued support for health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped limit the effect of the virus throughout the country.  We hope that you will take similar prompt and preemptive action to aid pediatric hospitals to protect the health and well-being of our nation’s youth and the doctors and practitioners who oversee their care.

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