Washington, D.C. – Following a bipartisan push co-led by U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), 314 Maine health care providers received a total of $129,052,464 from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The funding was awarded through the Provider Relief Fund (PRF), which assists health care providers facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra spoke with Senator Collins this morning to notify her that the funding had been released.
HHS’ announcement follows a bipartisan call led by Senator Collins and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to swiftly distribute these federal dollars to providers on the frontlines of the COVID crisis.
Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living providers, clinics, and other health care providers have relied on the PRF to help weather the financial difficulties created by the pandemic. In rural areas in particular, the PRF has prevented facilities that struggled before and during the pandemic from falling into bankruptcy or closing entirely.
“Over the course of the pandemic, numerous Maine health care providers—particularly in rural areas—have told me about the difficulty and expense of paying for additional staff, along with COVID-related facility improvements, personal protective equipment, and other financial challenges. I have also heard from patients of long-term care facilities and their families who have been displaced or fear they may have to move due to nursing home closures,” said Senator Collins. “I was proud to partner with Senator Shaheen to champion the Provider Relief Fund, which has been a lifeline for hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers and physician practices across the country. The release of this additional funding will help prevent more health care facilities from closing their doors and protect patients’ access to care.”
When the pandemic began, an estimated 70 percent of rural hospitals’ income dried up when patients avoided doctor’s appointments and states halted elective procedures. Almost half —17 out of 36—of Maine hospitals finished last year with a negative operating margin. Four Maine nursing homes announced in September that they would be shutting their doors, displacing more than 100 residents, and many other long-term care facilities are struggling to stay open.
To address this crisis, Congress appropriated $178 billion for the PRF last year. The PRF is designed to be a lifeline for hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, and physician practices that have sustained significant losses. Congress also provided an additional $8.5 billion for rural providers. A report by the Government Accountability Office in June, however, criticized HHS for its lack of transparency in distributing funding and revealed that 25 percent of the PRF remained unspent.
Senator Collins worked across the aisle to protect this funding and ensure that it was available for providers that desperately need it. Earlier this year, a bipartisan amendment she authored with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to strengthen the PRF was adopted by a near-unanimous vote of 99-1. In addition, as a lead negotiator of the bipartisan infrastructure package, Senator Collins successfully opposed attempts to slash funding from the PRF. Senator Collins has also urged HHS Secretary Becerra on multiple occasions to support the Provider Relief Fund.