Las Vegas Review Journal: Nevada lawmakers advocate for rural coronavirus funds

April 10, 2020
In The News

WASHINGTON — Frustrated with the uneven federal response to the coronavirus outbreak, Nevada lawmakers stepped up their complaints Friday for relief funds and medical supplies to rural hospitals battling the disease.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said rural hospitals treat a higher percentage of patients with Medicare and Medicaid coverage, a fact the Department of Health and Human Resources should take into account as it doles out relief funding to fight the virus.

She signed onto a bill that would create a federal formula that would guarantee funding from relief legislation.

“We need to make sure we are not leaving anyone behind because of their age or their ability to pay,” Rosen said in a telephone interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

She said attention to rural hospitals is important, “particularly in Nevada, where we are very far apart and it is hard to get from one community to another.”

102 closed in 10 years

In a letter Wednesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Rosen and other senators said that last year rural hospital closures were at an all-time high, and the number of facilities to be shuttered is on pace to be higher in 2020.

The 102 rural hospital closures over the past 10 years included the Nye Regional Medical Center in Tonopah, according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program.

Rosen said she is unaware of any rural hospital in Nevada that faces imminent threat of closure now, but much like facilities in larger cities, Nevada’s rural hospitals face difficulty finding medical equipment and are spending down funds preparing for emergency treatments.

“We want to be sure that we get everything we need, in a fair and equitable way,” Rosen said in the interview.

If the supplies are not needed, she said Nevada hospitals would “return them to the national stockpile.”

Dividing relief funds

The letter, signed by a bipartisan group of 19 senators, calls for a 20 percent benchmark for distribution to local hospitals of the $100 billion in hospital funds in the $2.2 trillion relief bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Lawmakers are also asking Azar to prioritize funding to hospitals with a disproportionate number of Medicare and Medicaid patients.

The senators, many of whom represent rural states such as Alaska, New Mexico, Georgia, Montana and Nevada, have asked Azar and his department to brief lawmakers by teleconference on their request by Monday.

In the House, Reps. Susie Lee, D-Nev., Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and Dina Titus, D-Nev., have urged leaders to include additional funding for community health clinics in the next relief package that Congress expects to write when it returns.

Nevada lawmakers also are pressing the Department of Health and Human Services to allocate funds to employer- and union-sponsored health clinics that provide many services to casino and tourism workers in Las Vegas.

A Senate bill to add more relief for small businesses stalled when Democrats tried to add additional funding for states, cities and hospitals this week.

Made in Nevada

Rosen said any new legislation in the Senate would be written through negotiation so that each state is represented to address its needs in fighting the pandemic.

Nevada has received medical supplies from the federal government, to be distributed through Gov. Steve Sisolak. The Health and Human Services Department also announced it plans to acquire 100,000 ventilators within the next 100 days for the national stockpile. The federal government has a contract with a Nevada firm for some of the equipment, said Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.

Hamilton Medical Corps of Reno, a Swiss-based ventilator producer, received the contract.

“It is my understanding that production at the new Reno factory will begin before the end of the month,” Amodei said.

Meanwhile, Nevada health care providers were notified they receive $6 million in federal funds dispersed to fight the coronavirus in legislation approved by Congress and signed into law by Trump.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Rosen announced the eight recipients of the funds distributed by the government to fight the coronavirus. The Nevada clinics receiving the funding are:

— Community Health Alliance, Reno, $1.5 million;

— First Person Care Clinic, Las Vegas, $640,460;

— FirstMed Health and Wellness Center, Las Vegas, $627,110;

— Hope Christian Health Center Corp., North Las Vegas, $555,955;

— Nevada Health Centers, Inc., Carson City, $1.5 million;

— Northern Nevada HIV Outpatient Program, Education and Services, Reno, $762,275;

— Silver State Health Services, Las Vegas, $523,655;

— Southern Nevada Health District, Las Vegas, $503,000.