Supporting the unsung heroes of coronavirus pandemic

Apr 23, 2020

Like many in Northeast Ohio, I find myself waking up every day more grateful than I was the day before. I’m grateful for my health and that of my family, but I’m especially grateful for the people working day-in and day-out to save those fighting for their lives against this invisible enemy.

A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic is extremely disrupting. It has brought hardship and tragedy. But it has also unveiled the heroes living among us in our communities. Videos of nurses and other health care workers on the front line of this public health crisis being applauded as they walk to work are everywhere on social media and the news, and rightfully so.

As the proud husband of a hardworking nurse, I have known for a long time that these unsung heroes are the lifeline of our nation’s health care system. But the unfortunate truth is that there has been a dire need for nurses all across the country long before COVID-19 came along.

The demand for nurses varies by state but it’s estimated that the national need for nurses will increase by 28% over the next decade. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the needs of our health care professionals.

That’s why I have consistently fought for federal programs that support the recruitment and retention of nurses, known as Title VIII programs.

Title VIII programs are the largest source of federal funding for nursing education and directly invest in our nation’s health by addressing specific needs within the nursing workforce and America’s patient population.

Importantly, these programs also provide targeted support for institutions that educate nurses for practice in rural and medically underserved communities, bolstering nursing education at all levels, from entry-level to graduate study.

While my bill to reauthorize Title VIII programs had passed the House at the end of last year with unanimous, bipartisan support, the process scheduling it for a vote in the Senate stalled when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. That’s why I fought to ensure this critical bill was included in the CARES Act, Congress’ most recent COVID-19 relief package.

The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020, and my Title VIII Nursing Workforce Reauthorization Act along with it, ensuring that those interested in pursuing a career in nursing have access to the education and training opportunities necessary to do so.

However, equal to our nation’s long-term need for nurses is the immediate need to provide health care workers with the supplies they so desperately need during this pandemic.

The harsh reality is that hospitals and health care systems across the country are facing staffing difficulties, an ever-increasing demand for testing, an influx of critically ill COVID-19 patients and an ever-challenging level of demand for medical equipment needed to care for these patients.

It is absolutely critical that we safeguard and provide for those who put their lives on the line treating patients suffering from this deadly virus.

That’s why I joined my Democratic colleague Representative Quigley in leading the bipartisan call to provide significant, immediate funding for hospitals and health systems. Together, we compiled a bipartisan coalition of Members and urged House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Minority Leader McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Schumer to include this much-needed aid in future COVID-19 relief legislation.

Per our request, the CARES Act included over $100 billion for hospitals and health systems, which is currently providing our medical professionals the supplies they so desperately need, like gloves, additional beds, face masks, and gowns, as well as life-saving equipment like ventilators and respirators.

As we gain ground in our battle against COVID-19, and long after we have defeated it, I will continue fighting to provide our health care professionals with the supplies and training needed to properly care for the American people.

For years I have watched my wife’s limitless dedication to caring for her patients and can personally attest to the unmatched commitment nurses have when it comes to providing life-saving care.

I am proud to be a Co-Chair of the Congressional Nursing Caucus and work across the aisle to lead the bipartisan effort to ensure these unsung heroes have the support they need to continue to be the foundation of our health care system.

Read the op-ed online here.

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