- The American Hospital Association is urging HHS to again extend the federal COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, warning that providers are still caring for patients sick with the virus and that rising cases in Europe from an omicron subvariant could signal the potential for another surge in the U.S. The current public health emergency is set to expire in mid-April.
- In a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the AHA and other hospital groups said their members face challenges that include continuing workforce and supply shortages, staff burnout and the need to care for patients with long COVID-19 illness as well as conditions arising from delayed treatment due to the pandemic.
- The emergency powers granted under the declaration preserve patients' access to care and give hospitals the flexibility and resources needed to deal with further potential disruptions to the healthcare delivery system, the groups said.
After spiking in January, reports of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have declined to levels not seen since last summer. Still, in pockets of the country, notably states in the Northeast and South, case counts are rising again.
The hospital groups also pointed to a new wave of cases in Europe, where hospitalizations are climbing amid the spread of a subvariant of omicron.
Joining the AHA in the letter calling for an extension of the U.S. public health emergency were America's Essential Hospitals, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Children's Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Premier healthcare alliance and Vizient.
HHS first declared the COVID-19 emergency in January 2020. It has since extended the declaration eight times, most recently on Jan. 14. Since that time, federal guidelines for face coverings have been relaxed, and some experts have warned that a COVID-19 resurgence in the U.S. is possible just as data reporting and testing efforts have slowed, raising concerns that new cases are being underreported.
"While we are heartened that COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are decreasing in the United States, hospitals and health systems are still dealing with COVID-19 patients and deaths on a daily basis," the hospital groups wrote.
Vulnerable populations such as children under 5 years of age and immunocompromised patients who cannot be vaccinated remain a concern, they said. There is also an "extraordinary" need for behavioral health services due to increases in stress, isolation and other triggers for depression, substance abuse and related disorders, the letter stated.
The public health emergency declaration has meant expanded access to Medicare and Medicaid coverage and telehealth services for more Americans, provided liability protections to providers caring for COVID-19 patients and helped fund state programs for vulnerable populations, the hospital groups noted.
"We too would like a return to focusing on non-pandemic related healthcare in our communities. Yet it is important to be prepared for potential disruptions to the healthcare delivery system," they wrote. "As we move forward, we urge the administration to work closely with patients, providers and stakeholders to ensure access to care is preserved."