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With COVID-19 Cases Surging And Chronic Staff Shortages In The Finger Lakes, Schumer Wants New, Flexible Military Medical Staff To Provide Relief To Hospitals Like Strong Memorial In Rochester

Senator Says Federal Personnel Have Already Successfully Provided Healthcare Workers The Support They Need In Buffalo, Syracuse, and NYC; Now It Is Time To Deploy Troops To Rochester And Other Hard Hit Areas Of NYS

Schumer: Rochester & Upstate NY Are On The Frontlines of the Latest Omicron COVID Wave, Federal Medical Personnel Are The Booster Needed To Combat Surge & Keep Communities Safe  

Standing shoulder to shoulder with frontline healthcare workers at University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer launched a major push to get Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to deploy federal medical personnel to get the Finger Lakes and other hard hit areas Upstate New York the support it needs to combat the recent COVID surge. Specifically, Schumer urged FEMA to deploy flexible DoD Military Medical Teams (MMT), HHS Disaster Medial Assistance Teams (DMAT) and/or other federal medical personnel to help alleviate staff shortages and provide struggling healthcare workers essential relief.

“Upstate New York is on the front lines of the latest COVID surge, and with record high COVID case in Rochester, that means the federal government needs to step up deploy federal medical teams to give our Upstate healthcare workers the support they need to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Schumer. “Our brave healthcare workers are working non-stop, and the recent surge has only increased the work load.  Military Medical Teams and other federal medical professionals can provide a much-needed booster for our Upstate hospitals and give our doctors and nurses the relief they need. That is why I am calling on FEMA and the federal government to step up and swiftly deploy these troops to help our exhausted medical staff and emergency responders."

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases and rise of variants like Omicron has overwhelmed many hospitals in Upstate New York, with many pausing non-essential surgeries and closing Urgent Care Centers in order to maintain sufficient capacity for rising COVID-19 hospitalizations.  In the past week alone, URMC has had multiple days with over 1000 employee absentees, many of them nurses who are critical to staff beds and accommodate the Omicron surge of admissions. And just when absentees spike, so do patient loads.  Currently Strong is experiencing an historic level of admissions with over 930 patients currently at Strong including 80 former COVID patients awaiting discharge once an assisted living bed becomes available. As a result of the winter Omicron hospital admission surge currently 40 Upstate hospitals centered in the hard hit Finger Lakes region have suspended non-essential non-urgent elective surgeries due to severely low bed capacity availability.  Moreover, at a time that Urgent Care centers are seeing three times higher foot traffic, URMC had to close two Urgent Care centers in Monroe County just last week to deal with capacity constraints. 

Monroe County Department of Public Health this week reported 5,799 new COVID-19 cases including 30 new deaths. The Finger Lakes 7-day average positivity rate is 17.4%, higher than the statewide 14.3% average.  Hospital admission numbers are not letting up.  756 people in the Finger Lakes region are hospitalized with the virus, up 7 admissions since last week, including 125 in an ICU. Overall, since December 31st, there has been an increase of 229 COVID hospitalizations in the Finger Lakes region.

“The latest surge in COVID hospitalizations, combined with staff shortages and high numbers of patients awaiting discharge to nursing homes, place enormous stress on UR Medicine’s ability to meet the care needs of the communities we serve,” said Dr. Mark B. Taubman, CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We greatly appreciate Senator Schumer’s leadership in providing essential federal support to hospitals throughout the COVID pandemic. Today, UR Medicine thanks him for requesting deployment of federal medical teams to assist health systems like ours in a time of great need.”

Schumer explained that federal medical professionals like Military Medical Teams and Disaster Medial Assistance Teams are uniquely prepared to assist overwhelmed healthcare systems in moments like this. These federal teams are able to assist in offsetting patient capacity and provide existing healthcare workers, many of whom are working overtime due to staff shortages from positive cases, the necessary relief to keep the workforce strong through the surge. In addition, they can help fill the backlog of other overburdened medical services, and assist related fields like local emergency responders and hospital transport.

Schumer said that FEMA, HHS, and DoD have already sent federal medical teams to assist in Buffalo, Syracuse, and New York City, and that now it is time these same resources be deployed to Rochester and other Upstate regions experiencing the most severe challenges. Last week Governor Hochul called for additional federal medical staff support. The senator double downed on her call, especially for the hard hit Finger Lakes region. Schumer also asked for flexibility in any resources provided to allow New York to make real time decisions and meet the greatest need for support across the state.

Schumer’s request comes on the heels of his successful push for the federal government to provide free at-home tests to New York community health centers & mobile sites. President Biden also recently announced that the federal government will deliver 500 million free at-home rapid testing which homes can apply for online now through the U.S. Postal Service.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell appears below:

Dear Administrator:

I write today to ask for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) assistance as the State of New York continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent surge in cases due to the Omicron variant. This surge has led to severe capacity and staffing challenges at hospitals across the state – in particular the hospitals in the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, and Central New York. FEMA has been a great partner in battling this pandemic, most recently providing significant federal resources to Buffalo, Syracuse, and New York City and I am deeply appreciative of FEMA leadership and staff in moving this money to New York quickly. Tragically, COVID continues to rage and we need more help. I ask that FEMA deploy flexible U.S. Department of Defense Military Medical Teams (MMT), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Disaster Medial Assistance Teams (DMAT) and/or other federal medical personnel to New York State, in particular the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, and Central New York regions, to assist with the COVID-19 surge.

Across the state, hospitals are simultaneously experiencing record volumes of COVID patients and chronic staff shortages due to workers contracting or being exposed to COVID, which has negatively impacted communities’ access to care and our health care workers. In Upstate New York, hospitals are pausing non-essential surgeries and closing Urgent Care Centers in order to maintain sufficient capacity for rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. I have heard from our brave health care workers and support staff who are on the front lines of this pandemic, caring for our COVID patients, and the rising hospitalizations combined with their regular exposure to this highly contagious disease have led to a strained workforce. That is why I am echoing Governor Hochul’s request that the federal government mobilize clinical staff across the state, specifically to upstate regions experiencing the most severe challenges.

Prior to COVID, when FEMA has sent DMAT teams to the state, the federal government has allowed them the flexibility to deploy these teams where the need is greatest as things shift on the ground. With recent deployments, FEMA has sent these teams to specific hospitals and without this flexibility. I urge FEMA to provide as much flexibility to New York State as possible with any future and currently deployed teams. This flexibility will allow the state to make real time decisions on where the need is greatest and how to best serve the people of New York.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic, FEMA has played a central role in New York’s fight against COVID-19. While I am grateful for these efforts and for the work of FEMA staffers, I ask that FEMA continue this partnership and build on its efforts as hospitals across the state are facing severe staffing and capacity challenges. I ask that as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly you swiftly provide New York hospitals with the flexible federal resources needed to combat this surge.

I appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your response. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office with any questions.