The American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association on Thursday asked leaders in Congress to appropriate $1 billion in new funds to help hospitals and healthcare workers fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
"An adequately funded public healthcare workforce will be necessary to support a wide range of activities, including implementing quarantine, conducting testing and monitoring of patients under investigation, ensuring laboratory capacity for rapid diagnosis, and conducting public health surveillance activities to track the outbreak and inform response," AHA President and CEO Richard Pollack and ANA CEO Loressa Cole wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The White House requested $2.5 billion in emergency funding to fight the coronavirus disease outbreak, though Democrats and some Republicans have called for more money to be allocated.
"We're requesting $2.5 (billion). Some Republicans would like us to get $4 (billion), and some Democrats would like us to get $8.5 (billion), and we'll be satisfied whatever it is," President Donald Trump said on Wednesday.
It is unclear how any funds allocated for hospital preparedness would be distributed, said Nancy Foster, AHA's vice president for quality and patient safety policy. Some supplemental funding Congress allocated for Ebola response was made available for hospitals in 2015 through the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response's Hospital Preparedness Program.
"I think that lawmakers recognize that there is a need, and they were interested in information on what needs might exist for the healthcare system," Foster said.
Hospitals and nurses said they would use the funding to train staff, obtain protective equipment, house patients in isolation, replace operating revenue if elective surgeries need to be canceled due to supply shortages, expand telehealth options, and increase staffing levels.
The Federation of Hospitals is still in "study mode" on appropriations, but has been talking with HHS for weeks about ensuring sufficient supply lines, isolation facilities and testing are available, FAH CEO and President Chip Kahn said.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified before lawmakers on Thursday that in a large-scale outbreak, individuals who test positive for the virus but do not need to be hospitalized could likely quarantine at home. Kahn said that may generally be the case, though some individuals may not have the support or resources to be able to appropriately isolate themselves at home.
"Much as we deal every day with social determinants of health, isolation becomes a problem when someone is sick but does not require hospitalization and does not have someone who can appropriately take care of them at home," Kahn said.
Kahn said influenza season was relatively moderate, so FAH member hospitals already have some of the materials that would be necessary to combat a COVID-19 outbreak on hand.
Telehealth services could help providers serve individuals isolated at home if strategies shift from containment of the outbreak to mitigation, Foster said.
The California Hospital Association is at the moment primarily concerned with informing its members of proper protocols and ensuring testing facilities are available in-state, said spokesperson Jan Emerson-Shea. California has had more cases of coronavirus than any other state with more than two dozen people who have tested positive for the disease, including the possible first case of community transmission.