SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal on Tuesday announced $1.9 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency aimed at helping Baystate Health close budget gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money will pay for employees, supplies and personal protective equipment used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients and others.
“The virus has added a layer of complexity to what we do,” said Baystate Health President and CEO Dr. Mark A. Keroack.
Baystate Health is out $155 million between lost revenue and added expense, he said. That includes the cost of COVID-19 patients and lost revenue from delayed or canceled treatments for other health issues.
But the health network has received $140 million in government aid related to the pandemic, moving Baystate back within its usual margin, Keroack said.
Neal, a Springfield Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said he is appreciative of the work Dr. Keroack and his colleagues are doing to protect the community from the coronavirus and prevent its spread.
“What a remarkable job you have done in the pandemic,” he said.
A separate program, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, included $50 billion nationwide for COVID-19 testing. Neal said continued testing is an important factor in the nation’s economic recovery. While he and others expect a good jobs report Friday, any real recovery won’t happen until the virus is under control.
“I want to remind people that there is a long way to go here,” Neal said.
It’s part of a busy period of work in the district for Neal, who visited Pittsfield Friday and a vaccination clinic in Holyoke Saturday.
Later Tuesday, he expected a briefing from the White House on President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure program. The president will announce the $3 trillion to $4 trillion package Wednesday.
Neal said it will help western and central Massachusetts, adding, “I intend to make sure of that.”
The push for east-west passenger rail is a major example.
Eye on the virus
In terms of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, Keroack said Baystate’s numbers were a little better Tuesday. The number fell to 70, from 78 Monday. That is still well above the 48 patients reported two weeks ago.
The number of ICU patients has hovered in the single digits, dropping recently from nine to five.
When asked about Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — who this week described a sense of “impending doom” regarding a potential new surge in cases — Keroack said the description was “overblown.”
Keroack said he’s not nearly as concerned about the recent spike in local cases because so many people in the region are vaccinated.
Neal, meanwhile, said he’s been talking with the Biden administration’s new federal Health and Humans Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and expects the secretary to visit the region soon.
Becerra served with Neal on the Ways and Means committee when he was in Congress, before he became California’s attorney general.