Written by Alex Gault for the Watertown Daily Times on July 16, 2020

WATERTOWN — Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, met with nurses and doctors at Samaritan Medical Center on Thursday to discuss how their work has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Friday, Ms. Stefanik announced in a video conference with Tom Carman, CEO of Samaritan Medical Center, that she had secured an additional $2.5 million in federal funding for the hospital.

Ms. Stefanik personally rewrote the formula used to allocate funding from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to enable Samaritan Medical Center to receive the additional funding, after the medical system was left out of previous rounds of funding for rural hospitals due to a classification error.

“By definition, even though we are in a rural region, because of the population of our soldiers, Samaritan Hospital was designated as an urban hospital, and so was left out of previous rural federal funds designated in the CARES Act,” Ms. Stefanik said Friday.

Her Thursday visit was in part to discuss the effects the additional money would have, as well as to meet and talk with medical staff who have been working through the pandemic.

Ms. Stefanik had initially hoped to tour the facilities and speak with staff as they worked, but because of COVID-19 regulations, her visit was limited to a private meeting in the hospital board room and small gathering in the hospital’s Healing Garden.

“When we spoke last week, she said ‘I’d love to go up onto the units to talk to staff,’ and I started to think to myself that that doesn’t quite fit with the New York state visitation policy, and probably we aren’t ready for that just yet,” Mr. Carman said.

The congresswoman congratulated the Samaritan staff for handling the pandemic well, keeping their facilities safe and preventing any deaths from COVID-19 in Jefferson County.

“I want to comment and highlight what a success story locally, of the long-term residential facility associated with Samaritan,” Ms. Stefanik said to reporters after the meeting. “There were zero positive COVID cases of the residents, they have 530. That is a tremendous success story for how proactive they were.”

During her conversation with medical staff, Ms. Stefanik asked questions about their experiences during the pandemic, how they’ve handled the newfound stresses of work and how patients have fared.

A common refrain was that many of the staff members were most concerned by what they do not know.

“It’s the unknown here, fear of the unknown, that’s the biggest thing,” said one of the assembled staff. “Up on that COVID unit, we’re up there by ourselves, it’s usually me and another staff member with that patient.”

One of those unknown factors is where the hospital will get the additional funding it needs to stay financially stable. During last Friday’s video conference, Mr. Carman said that even with the additional $2.5 million in funding from HHS, the Samaritan system is still facing $15 million in projected revenue loss.

Ms. Stefanik said that more funding may be on its way.

“I’m working on additional hospital funding in the next COVID package, that would be in addition to state and local aid as well as support for additional funds for testing and PPE,” Ms. Stefanik said in a news conference after the event.

She lauded the way that northern New York has handled the virus, and said that she thinks that the region has gotten the resources it needs, from hospital funding, to testing capacity, to protective equipment.

Ms. Stefanik said she approves of President Donald J. Trump’s handling of the pandemic, specifically how he has deferred to local leadership and allowed localities to manage their own response.

“I think our county and public health officials have gotten the support that they need from CDC in terms of information flow, they’ve gotten the funding for PPE, for testing, our small businesses have gotten the funding they needed, individuals have gotten access to stimulus checks and our hospitals have gotten direct funds,” she said.

Ms. Stefanik said that she believes one of the biggest issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented is the United States’ over-reliance on foreign manufacturing.

“One of the issues I think it highlights is our over-dependence on China and other countries, as we saw at the start of this crisis, whether it was gowns of N-95 masks, it has shined a megawatt spotlight that we should not be dependent upon China for manufacturing,” she said.

Ms. Stefanik said that she would like to see the Trump administration again employ the Defense Production Act and ask manufacturers to make additional resources for hospitals across the country.

“Based on my discussions with Samaritan, many of our health centers and hospitals have proactively purchased a very large quantity of PPE, but we still need to provide the funding and support at the federal level, and again use the Defense Production Act,” she said.

You can read the full article at https://www.nny360.com/