The House bill is co-sponsored by representatives Greg Rothman, R–Cumberland, and Stephen Kinsey, D–Philadelphia. The funding that lawmakers are earmarking for the Heroes Act is a portion of the $7.2 billion Pennsylvania will receive as part of the federal American Rescue Plan.
The act will enable the commonwealth’s rural, urban and suburban hospitals and health systems to create and implement programs that address the specific needs – including meeting the mental health needs and restoring the health care workforce – of the communities they serve. Throughout the pandemic, Mon Valley Hospital pivoted to address the needs that arose, such as redirecting resources and staffing, adding temporary negative pressure rooms, purchasing additional medical equipment, including ventilators, and boosting supplies of hard-to-get PPE.
“This is a tremendous help to us. This will provide a lifeline to make us better prepared to get through the next pandemic, the next serious health-care crisis in our community,” said Panza. Panza said the hospital could use the funding to add permanent negative pressure rooms and increase its PPE inventory and to meet COVID-19 testing and vaccination needs to reach its rural and under-served communities. “We’ve all learned that just-in-time inventory doesn’t work in hospitals anymore because when the pandemic hit, none of us could get PPE supplies,” he said.
Lou Panza, president and CEO of Monongahela Valley Hospital, said the funding will especially benefit rural and community hospitals, who were financially impacted by declining revenues that occurred when elective surgeries were suspended, and increasing expenses created by the pandemic. The bill is supported by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.
The disruption in mental health services and community social supports has especially impacted people with mental illness, addiction and intellectual disabilities, said Dr. Erika Saunders, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Penn State University. In the nearly 14 months since the pandemic began, there have been more than 1.1 million COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, and more than 26,445 Pennsylvanians have died from it.
The pandemic also has taken a mental toll on frontline health-care workers and the funding could be used to implement health support, wellness, and resiliency programs. “The amount of stress that hospital staffs have gone through in the last 12 months is incredible,” said Panza. Hospitals and health-care systems in rural areas could use the funding to purchase equipment and software to implement tele-psychiatry programs or recruit, train and retain behavioral health providers and psychiatrists, Saunders suggested.
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