Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led a chant among workers Friday at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx: “$860 million! $860 million!” It's the amount that FEMA owes the city’s 11 public hospitals for their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nurses, doctors and others with the NYC Health + Hospitals System say the bill has come due.
“This is an injustice that FEMA must correct,” said Carmen Charles, president of the Local 420 health workers union.
Schumer spearheaded the public pressure campaign by recalling the dark days of spring 2020 when the COVID crisis was overwhelming New York.
“Listen to this, FEMA," he said. "H+H expanded its system-wide medical surge capacity by more than 80%, expanded bed capacity by 120%, expanded ICU by 360%. You think this was free? You think this didn’t cost any money?”
Schumer was blunt, saying, “In Brooklyn, I’d use a word that I can’t use here. FEMA is being too tight-blank. You’ll fill in the word.”
Bronx Rep. Ritchie Torres was also at the news conference.
“We know that COVID has cost the public hospital system $2 billion, so the $800 million we’re requesting is only the tip of the iceberg," he said. "We’re coming back for more.”
Torres and others in the city’s U.S. House delegation penned a letter this month to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who previously served as commissioner of New York City’s emergency management agency during the worst of the pandemic.
The letter reads, in part, “We believe that is it unfair to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursement for NYC H+H, who was on the frontlines combatting the first epicenter of COVID-19 in the nation.”
FEMA officials tell NY1 they’re in receipt of the congressional correspondence, and are in talks with Health + Hospitals about the reimbursement process.
They had no further details but insisted that the dialogue is ongoing.
The funds could mitigate a potential future crisis.
“The variant is coming back around," Charles said. "And we need every dime, every dollar, to make sure that if it becomes worse, that we will not be lacking in any supplies or any PPE or have to turn any patient away.”