Gillibrand supports new health care investment

U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y. appears at a press conference on Thursday, April 8, 2021 alongside local leaders and representatives from the Office of the Aging, to address a policy package meant to lower prescription drug prices next to the Jefferson County office building, 175 NY-3, in Watertown. Gillibrand wants to use funds from the American Rescue Plan to support her Health Force initiative. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times/File

NEW YORK — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing for the creation of the Health Force.

In January, legislation was introduced for the Health Force, Resilience Force and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act, which will invest billions from American Rescue Plan funds in the nation’s public health jobs and infrastructure to aid the coronavirus vaccine distribution campaign.

“Over the past year and a half, COVID -19 has laid bare the failures of our health system,” Gillibrand said. “Which invests far more money in treating illnesses than preventing them. The pandemic has also magnified the systemic health inequalities, rural, Black, Latino and indigenous communities have faced for far too long. That’s why I fought to build a public health workforce, and worked to secure nearly $8 billion in the American Rescue Plan to start recruiting, training and employing hundreds of thousands of Americans to work in high-quality jobs in the communities they call home.”

The money will help fight both the current health crisis and employment crisis at the same time, Gillibrand said.

“Having more community health workers working to respond to the pandemic, especially in the hardest hit communities, is crucial,” Gillibrand said.

Far Rockaway Queens is one of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. As many as one in every seven people there has been diagnosed with the virus and health officials estimate 35% of the people there are fully vaccinated, Gillibrand said.

“One of the best ways to address that vaccine hesitancy is by reaching people with trusted messengers who understand their concerns and their circumstances and know how to address them and connect them to the services they need,” Gillibrand said. “Community health workers can be those messengers and help us get as many Americans vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Funding in the American Rescue Plan includes more than $200 million for investments in community-based organizations working specifically on vaccine distribution and equity, Gillibrand said.

“Their efforts are paramount to ending this pandemic,” Gillibrand said. “Especially as cooler weather will begin to push more activities inside during the fall and the winter. Recruiting and training more health workers to serve in neighborhoods they live in also provides reinforcements to traditionally underserved areas, helping us to improve access to care where its needed most and to bolster our overstretched systems.”

Hospitals have been facing a nursing shortage throughout the pandemic, Gillibrand said, adding this makes it more difficult to meet patient needs.

“That shortage is expected to grow,” Gillibrand said. Researchers project that by 2030, New York state could be short as many as 39,000 nurses. That will leave hospitals and nursing homes and people they care for in jeopardy. The public health workforce has similarly struggled in recent years. The nation lost nearly 40,000 public health jobs over the last decade, while state and local budgets were slashed by 16% and 18%, respectively. Our public health safety net was already in tatters when COVID-19 hit.”

Gillibrand said she sent a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra, asking him to ensure the funds secured in the American Rescue Plan are used in the way the legislation intended.

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