After months of delay, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to reimburse New York City’s public hospital system almost $1 billion for its expenses treating patients during the city’s brutal first wave of Covid-19 in 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres announced the news Wednesday outside of Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, one of the city’s 11 public hospitals. The hospital is in Mr. Torres’s congressional district.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, also in attendance, praised the work the public hospital system has done during the pandemic, calling the system “the tip of the spear.” Nearly 3,000 patients died of Covid-19 in the system’s hospitals between March and September of 2020, according to state data. He added, “What I saw from all of you was extraordinary courage, strength, resiliency, incredible commitment.”
In October 2020, the system, known as NYC Health + Hospitals, requested roughly $900 million from FEMA to cover costs related to hiring extra staff and expanding its capacity to treat coronavirus patients. FEMA had initially agreed to reimburse only $260 million, less than one-third of the request, arguing that the remainder consisted of costs that were not necessarily related to the virus. But the public hospital system, backed by the lawmakers, maintained that it was impossible to separate specific Covid-related expenses at a time when the system was swamped by the disease.
Mr. Torres’s office said Wednesday that after the lawmakers got involved, FEMA relented and agreed to send the system an additional $620 million.
In a June letter to FEMA, the head of NYC Health + Hospitals, Dr. Mitchell Katz, wrote that the system had spent about $2 billion in its response to Covid-19, and that it needed more reimbursement immediately “to provide critically needed cash flow to our safety net system.”
The reimbursement will cover staffing, equipment and patient care efforts that were necessary during the surge of Covid-19 cases, according to Mr. Torres’s office.
FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At the Wednesday announcement, Dr. Katz thanked Senator Schumer and Representative Torres for “proving that the federal government can work.”
“We were short on supplies,” he said, recalling the worst days of the first Covid wave. “We were short on staffing, and the mayor never questioned whether or not we would get fully reimbursed. He always said, ‘Mitch, do what you need to do.’”