Rural Hospitals Must Be Prioritized, Tester Urges Trump Administration in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

Senators: “Mr. Secretary, our rural providers need your immediate assistance”

As the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is demanding he Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) prioritize the needs of rural hospitals when directing taxpayer dollars to combat the pandemic.

“Mr. Secretary, our rural providers need your immediate assistance,” wrote Tester with 40 of his Senate colleagues. “Congress has provided you with the funding and flexibility. Now it is up to the Administration to respond with rapid action to sustain rural providers. Any unnecessary delay will only worsen this situation. Therefore, we request you make the financial relief of rural hospitals a priority. Rural hospitals need access to financial resources immediately and in the most streamlined manner.”

Senator Tester has led the charge to ensure that Montana’s rural health care providers are not left behind in the face of the outbreak. He has aggressively urged the Administration to activate the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Fourth Mission and urged President Trump to utilize his authority under the Defense Production Act.

On March 20th, Tester called on HHS and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure rural America has access to critically needed medical supplies, but last week-after FEMA still had not distributed masks, ventilators or personal protective equipment to Montana-Tester again implored the Trump Administration to quickly make these supplies available to the Treasure State.

“Montana’s doctors and nurses cannot wait on government bureaucracy for another moment to protect themselves from the virus while they treat sick patients,” Tester pushed the heads of HHS and FEMA. “Supplies are dwindling and folks are sewing their own masks, or going without and getting sick themselves. You have the equipment-release it now. What possible excuse is there for this unconscionable delay that puts Montana’s health care workers’ lives at risk? Where are the masks?”

Tester also recently introduced legislation requiring the President to fully utilize the authorities granted to him under the Defense Production Act. The bill would immediately require the purchase of 300 million N95 masks; require the National Response Coordination Center to conduct a national assessment on needs; and waive the Congressional notification and spending cap to purchase necessary resources based on this assessment.

Tester has been working tirelessly to ensure that Montana is prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Senate last week, after 72 hours negotiating substantial, bipartisan improvements to COVID-19 stimulus legislation that had previously fallen far short, Tester voted to deliver critical, urgent relief to Montana workers, families, small businesses, hospitals and others hardest hit by the outbreak. This funding includes $1.25 billion for the state of Montana.

Text of Tester’s full letter can be found HERE.