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INTERVIEW: Brindisi On Hospitals, Homelessness Relief During COVID-19

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — WSKG's Sarah Gager sits down with New York 23rd District Congressman Anthony Brindisi to discuss the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.




While the majority of COVID-19 cases in New York are downstate, numbers continue to rise in upstate regions. New York representative Anthony Brindisi represents the 22nd District, which includes Chenango and Cortland counties and parts of Broome and Tioga and - Congressman, how do you feel your district is prepared for coronavirus related hospitalizations?

ANTHONY BRINDISI: Well, I think that the hospitals— and I just had a conference call with all the hospital administrators from across the district a couple days ago—I think they're doing the best job they can right now. I think that they are preparing and following all the specific guidelines and recommendations by the CDC. I think, like most hospital systems and healthcare providers across the country right now, they are struggling with shortages, shortages of personal protective equipment like face masks. Obviously, they want to prepare for a potential surge, so things like ventilators are important to them.

So, I think they're they're prepared the best they can and hopefully if we as a public continue to follow all the recommended guidelines, we won't see that large surge here in upstate New York as we're seeing in downstate right now, but we got to be prepared and I think the hospitals are doing a good job at that.

SG: Right, and you brought up the ventilators, which Governor Andrew Cuomo recently pressured upstate hospitals to send those ventilators downstate. Well, is that something that hospitals in your districts can afford?

AB: I think there's a lot of concern right now among the hospitals in the district. We have very small community hospitals within the congressional district. Some of them only have two or three ventilators in their entire hospital. So it would be a challenge for them if they had to send those to a different part of the state.

I wish the Governor had given us a little bit more of a heads up on this executive order before going public with it and had worked with the hospital systems to kind of come up with a better system here. And I think from talking to the hospitals across the state, what I have found, is that this is really a voluntary measure at this point in time. If there are-if there is spare capacity, then obviously they would like to see that go to the parts of the state that are hit the hardest, but if there's not spare capacity, those those ventilators got to stay put in the in the communities that we live in so folks here in this region have access to the life-saving equipment that's necessary if they do contract the virus.

SG: Right, and so will hospitals in your district send any of those resources downstate?

AB: Well, I think right now, they're-they're doing things on a voluntary basis. I don't think any of them have been asked at this point in time to send any ventilators downstate, but they are concerned and working with the statewide hospital association on a plan moving forward here so we don't have a lack of resources in our region to treat coronavirus patients if they go to the hospital.

SG: White House—the White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, said essentially that governors should be drawing on their state's supply of ventilators and not relying on the federal government's supply, but should those ventilators be heading to hard hit states like New York?

AB: Absolutely. I don't necessarily agree with Mr. Kushner on that, that statement there. I think the federal government has to be the clearinghouse for this equipment. The federal government should be prioritizing areas of the country hardest hit right now and putting the national stockpile towards those regions, those states that are the hardest hit.

What's happening right now—and I've talked to hospital systems, I've talked to local officials as well as state officials here in New York—and what's happening is, they are competing with counterparts across the country, as opposed to having a one-stop shop for ventilators and personal protective equipment at the federal level. Right now they're going to the market and sometimes having to compete with other states to procure this type of equipment.

That's not what should be happening right now. The federal government should be prioritizing. They should have a database of all this equipment. They should be getting that equipment out to the areas of the country hardest hit. New York, of course, is the epicenter right now, so we should see a large share of that.

SG: Is there anything that Congress can do to coordinate that supply?

AB: Well, Congress is doing what we have to do in terms of our power, and that's appropriating money to be able to add to the national stockpile. In fact, the CARES Act, which we just recently passed, includes an additional $16 billion to add to the national stockpile. But really, it's up to the administration to carry out how that stockpile is distributed throughout the country right now. And I would encourage them and I think things are getting a little better in this regard, to use their full authority to procure life-saving equipment, and then get it out to the areas of the country that are most hard hit. And if things start to subside, and other parts that were hotspots, moving that equipment over to areas that are that are much more vulnerable at this point in time.

SG: You announced over a million dollars for Binghamton meant to help people who are homeless and as your press release puts it "homeless assistance to mitigate the impact of the pandemic." What do you want the money to go towards specifically?

AB: We were very successful in the CARES Act, getting more money for Binghamton for CDBG money, which is money that they traditionally get every year, but also Emergency Solutions Grants, which is used for housing assistance to prevent people from going homeless, and specifically as a result of the coronavirus. Really, I leave it to the mayor and the council really to come up with the best use of that money, but in general, it's meant to help offset some of the costs that cities are going to be facing as a result of coronavirus and make sure that folks who are in the most vulnerable situations right now have the assistance they need to be able to stay in their homes, stay in their apartments and be able to go on with their daily lives.

I think that going forward, we're going to need to see, and what I'm advocating for, is additional assistance for local governments like cities and counties, as well as additional assistance to the State of New York because they're all facing tremendous pressure right now because of coronavirus. And this is gonna blow a big hole in all their budgets going forward here and we'd hate to see a cut back in services that folks in this community rely on, but we need the federal government to step in and provide some more relief to states and cities and localities who are struggling right now.

SG: Alright, Representative Brindisi we'll have to cut it off there. Thanks for joining us.

AB: Alright thank you for having me.

SG: Anthony Brindisi represents New York's 22nd District which covers Chenango and Cortland Counties and parts of Broome and Tioga.

This is WSKG News.