Ruppersberger Unveils Legislation Providing “Hero” Pay for Frontline Hospital Workers Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
(Baltimore, MD) – Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) today introduced federal legislation providing “hero” pay to hospital workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dr. Joseph J. Costa Honoring Essential Americans Risking Their Safety (HEARTS) Act is named after Dr. Joseph Costa, who ran the critical care unit at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, treating COVID-19 patients before dying of the disease himself in July.
“From Day One of this pandemic, there have been heroic people like Dr. Costa running into the fire,” Congressman Ruppersberger said. “We must compensate those on the frontlines who are assuming extraordinary risk to themselves and their families in order to keep the rest of us safe and alive. We have all seen ads, speeches and social media posts thanking our brave healthcare workers – my bill is one way of putting our money where our mouths are.”
Under the legislation, hospital workers, including doctors, nurses, specialists and non-medical staff, such as custodians, who work in close proximity to COVID-19 patients will receive an additional $225 a month – the same amount American troops deployed in combat zones receive as “hostile fire” or “imminent danger” pay. Hospital systems can apply for the funds on behalf of their employees if they are in a COVID-19 hotspot as determined by the federal Department of Health and Human Services based on hospitalization rates. Hero pay will be retroactive to March 2020 to cover previous hotspots.
“Dr. Joseph Costa was a valued and beloved member of the Mercy family for many years whose sacrifice will never be forgotten. Congressman Ruppersberger’s HEARTS Act pays homage to Dr. Costa by honoring those frontline health care and hospital workers who risk their safety as they care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. David Maine, president and CEO of Mercy Health Services, Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore, which hosted the announcement event.
The HEARTS Act also takes a first step toward potential compensation for the long-term healthcare costs for frontline healthcare workers who themselves test positive for COVID-19. It creates a voluntary registry for all healthcare workers to track outcomes and inform future decision-making. Grants will be available for states to encourage worker participation.
While Congressman Ruppersberger’s bill limits hero pay to hospital workers, the HEARTS Act offers other new benefits to employees of long-term, post-acute, skilled nursing and nursing home facilities who may treat COVID-19 patients. These workers would qualify for student loan forgiveness up to 50 percent as well as federal grants to cover half of their tuition for career training or accreditations.
“The pandemic has exacerbated already-high staff turnover and vacancy rates within the long-term care and nursing home sector,” Congressman Ruppersberger said. “Hopefully, these new benefits will incentivize the retention and recruitment of these invaluable workers both during the pandemic and beyond.”