Today, President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package that will bring much-needed relief to a wide swath of the country including: an extension of jobless supplement programs, direct $1,400 payments to most Americans, an expansion of the child tax credit, support for restaurants, rental assistance, support for schools, and billions of dollars to state and local governments.
This is welcome news for a nation that has a long road to recovery after more than a year of pandemic conditions, not to mention the fact that COVID-19 will continue to be with us for many months to come.
But absent from the legislation is any direct relief for those hospitals hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. We need more than provider relief, we need hospital relief. And this is felt even more acutely in California, which has thus far received a disproportionately low share of funds.
California hospitals have received less than $1 billion in “COVID-19 hotspot” relief — provided to multiple states — in advance of California’s gigantic surge. California relief ranked seventh in the nation, despite the state’s 3.5 million COVID-19 cases, making us first in the nation by more than 800,000 cases. This shortfall is compounded by the fact that California hospitals have received slightly more than $8 billion in total relief — well short of the $14.6 billion in projected 2020 revenue losses alone, not counting the anticipated additional $5 billion in losses in 2021, and nowhere near what’s needed to keep hospitals afloat and prepared for another pending surge, let alone rebuild the state’s health care workforce and infrastructure.
That’s why hospitals need help now, in any and all ways. In addition to the potential for new opportunities for federal monetary relief in the future, California can take action in this year’s legislative session to provide significant relief to hospitals by modernizing the state’s disaster response system to prepare for all emergencies, not just seismic events, and bring readiness expectations to post-COVID-19 reality levels — certainly not the $100 billion currently expected to be invested in hospital infrastructure for seismic disasters alone.
At the same time, even more is being asked of California’s hospitals: legislators are proposing billions of dollars in “recognition” pay for workers, further PPE stockpiles, and supplemental paid sick leave, to name a few.
In other words, there’s a lot on the table in the early months of the 2021 session, and it’s critical that all of us keep focused on what matters most — making sure that the forces pulling and pushing at hospitals from every direction will not impede your mission of care.
That’s at the heart of your unyielding duty to patients, and of our unyielding duty to you.