March 20, 2020

As New York Faces Impending Hospital Shortage, Schumer, Gillibrand Urge Fema, Army Corps To Quickly Authorize And Fund Expanded Hospital Space

Joint Letter Calls for Swift Action by the Agencies to Rapidly Increase Number of Available Hospital Beds In Anticipation of Surge of COVID-19 Patients

Today, Democratic Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urged FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers to move as quickly as possible to authorize, fund, and build additional hospital space in New York State, which has the most COVID-19 cases in the country. Projections show that due to the anticipated surge of patients due to COVID-19, New York State may need more than double the number of current hospital beds currently available. In a letter sent to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor and Commanding General of the Army Corps of Engineers Todd Semonite, the senators stressed the need for the full mobilization of federal resources to address the serious challenges hospitals are facing. Specifically, Schumer and Gillibrand called on FEMA and the Army Corps to quickly finalize completion of a standard hospital room design, move forward with modifying or retrofitting New York facilities for use as hospitals, and ensure there are no delays in executing this urgent Army Corps mission. Under the federal National Response Framework, FEMA is responsible for assigning the Army Corps a Mission Assignment before the Corps can move forward with the next steps to assess suitable sites and construct modifications and retrofits to buildings that will house hospital beds.

“With more and more confirmed cases in New York every day, we need to have all hands on deck in this coronavirus fight—especially including the Army Corps to build out hospital bed capacity,” said Senator Schumer. “Local hospitals need strong federal support to contain the spread of the virus, and they need it now. FEMA and the Army Corps must mobilize immediately to help New York’s overwhelmed hospitals.”

“New York’s hospitals are on the frontlines of responding to the coronavirus crisis, but they face a crisis of their own as a growing number of cases will overwhelm hospital capacity across the state,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We must act quickly to address this pandemic and fully support our hospitals and public health systems. I urge FEMA and the Army Corps to act as quickly as possible.” 

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

The Honorable Peter T. Gaynor Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency

500 C Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20472 

Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite
Chief of Engineers & Commanding General U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20314-1000 

March 20, 2020

Dear Administrator Gaynor and Lieutenant General Semonite,

We are grateful for the steps the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) have taken to-date to respond to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) national emergency. We appreciate that action is being taken through the National Mission Assignment for the Army Corps of Engineers to make building planners available to states, tribal governments and territories, which is a necessary and important first step. As the current public health and economic crisis continues to grow in New York and across the country, we are writing to urge you to ensure that FEMA and the Army Corps are moving as quickly as possible to rapidly increase the number of available hospital beds for the anticipated surge of patients who will be in need of hospitalization in states that are the hardest hit, including New York.

To date, more than 4,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for COVID-19, by far more than any other state in the nation. That number is expected to greatly increase over the coming days and weeks and has the potential to completely overwhelm our hospital system in an unprecedented way. This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo estimated that the state could need as many as 110,000 hospital beds in 45 days. That is more than double the number of beds New York currently has. Therefore, it is critically important that all resources of the federal government are fully mobilized to meet this enormous challenge for New York and beyond; it is vital that your agencies are moving as quickly as possible to not only plan, but implement an effective and timely response. 

Specifically, we ask that FEMA and the Army Corps work to quickly finalize completion of a standard hospital room design and scope for modifying or retrofitting facilities for use as hospitals or alternate care facilities in New York. 

Secondly, we also urge you to ensure that there is no delay in executing the necessary additional Army Corps Mission Assignments. This includes the assessment of suitable locations for temporary hospital rooms, and for securing access to the properties and carrying out the physical modifications and retrofits at those locations along with all necessary funding to complete each step of the process. Finally, it includes executing a mission assignment to begin and complete construction of all necessary temporary hospital rooms so that patients in need of quarantined space can utilize the hospital rooms as quickly as possible. 

The next several days will be critical for rapidly scaling up our capabilities to get ahead of the curve and do as much as possible to ensure that we have the resources and facilities in place to provide medical care to New Yorkers who are in need of hospitalization during this challenging time.

Thank you for your commitment to addressing this urgent crisis, and we look forward to continuing to partner with you and your agencies to ensure that New York has the help we so urgently need.  

Sincerely,

Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand