The coronavirus pandemic created many challenges for hospitals, health systems, and universities across the United States. Many hospitals, already operating on negative margins before the pandemic, faced increased financial pressures that threatened their ability to provide communities with access to care. Likewise, universities had to stop in-person clinical hours, delaying graduation for many clinicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers just when they were needed most. In response, the U.S. government created coronavirus funds to provide financial assistance to these institutions.
In June, the Biden administration announced that the June 30 deadline for spending emergency coronavirus funds would be extended for healthcare providers to December 31, 2021. The extension will give hospitals more time and flexibility to spend the emergency relief funds approved by Congress. Universities also still have time to access funds made available in the same coronavirus funds.
As you consider how to spend the funding received, this guide will provide hospital and university administrators with a detailed description of the funds available for their institution. The description of each fund will include information on what the funds can be spent on, where to apply for funding, and important deadlines for applying for/spending the funds.
Provider Relief Fund
The CARES Act allocates over $100 billion to the Provider Relief Fund. Hospitals and other healthcare providers can use the funds to purchase supplies, equipment, workforce training/professional development tools, and other resources to expand or preserve the delivery with these funds. The funds will be made available until September 2022.
Since the Provider Relief Fund can cover the purchase cost of workforce training and development tools, it should be noted that funds can potentially be used to purchase medical simulation technology like patient simulators and skill trainers because many have features useful in training providers and developing the skills needed to respond to and treat COVID-19 patients.
For example, providers can use real tools on Gaumard’s HAL® S1030 to auscultate his airway and identify abnormal breath sounds associated with a COVID-19 infection. In addition, providers can practice hands-on endotracheal intubation and use real airway adjuncts on HAL. This allows them to practice managing a difficult airway and hone the skills and techniques needed to intubate a patient safely and effectively.
Moreover, many COVID-19 patients require support through mechanical ventilation. This has created a demand for clinicians who know how to work with these machines. Many hospitals are training non-intensivist clinicians and staff from other departments to use the machines and help fill the shortage of people with this specialized skill.
HAL® S3201 supports the use of a real mechanical ventilator, and his intuitive respiratory controls allow users to adjust lung compliance, airway resistance, gasping, etc. to simulate various respiratory conditions. Providers can deliver CPAP therapy, which is linked to a significantly lower risk of death after the patient is hospitalized. Moreover, providers can provide PEEP therapy, which has been proven effective in treating patients with COVID-19-related ARDS.
Providers can sign into the Provider Relief Fund portal to apply for funds, check the status of their application, see how much money has been allocated to your institution, submit required reporting information, and much more here: https://cares.linkhealth.com/#/
Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF III)
The CARES Act allocates $14 billion of economic aid to the Office of Postsecondary Education in the form of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF I & HEERF II). These funds can be used by an accredited, state-licensed, and pre-accredited public or nonprofit postsecondary degree-granting institution.
Up to 50% of the money received from the HEERF must go to students in the form of financial aid grants. However, the rest can be used by colleges and universities to defray costs associated with coronavirus, including lost revenue, payroll, distance learning technology, faculty and staff training, and more. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) included a third HEERF (HEERF III) that added $40 billion in COVID-19 relief for higher education institutions. The funds are available through September 30, 2023.
Thus, the HEERF can help colleges and universities purchase simulation training tools to help train their healthcare faculty and staff. Adults learn best through active experiences where they learn by doing, reflect on their work, and improve their performance based on what they have learned.
Simulation-based training allows participants to experience various patient encounters and apply their knowledge hands-on in experiential environments. This allows them to repeatedly practice, hone, and maintain clinical skills without putting real patients at risk for errors.
Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) tasked its simulation center educators in March 2020 with training and teaching their students and healthcare workers how to properly use personal protective equipment (PPE) and safely care for COVID-19 patients. The educators use simulation to create authentic environments where learners can practice how to correctly put on and remove PPE to avoid contaminating themselves or spreading disease.
Since HAL S3201 can produce lung and cough sounds, can be operated in-transport, and can be placed on real machines like a ventilator, he is used to simulate the progression of a COVID-19 infection. Therefore, OHSU students, faculty, and staff are provided with the opportunity to practice and gain experience providing care for COVID-19 patients from the initial identification of symptoms to intubation and managing a ventilated patient.
Thus, simulation allows them to refine their infection-control protocols and hone patient care skills specific to COVID-19 infections. This ensures better outcomes for patients and that the team stays safe while providing care to these patients.
To apply for HEERF III grants, please go to grants.gov. You will need to type in the specific opportunity number for the HEERF grant you want.
- The opportunity number for HEERF grants applicable to student aid is ED-GRANTS-051321-001. The deadline to apply is August 11, 2021.
- The opportunity number for HEERF grants applicable to public/not-for-profit university funding is ED-GRANTS-051321-002. The deadline to apply is August 11, 2021.
American Rescue Plan
The American Rescue Plan (ARP) dedicated $7.66 billion to strengthen the nation’s public health departments and healthcare workforce. As such, funds can be used to cover personnel costs, PPE, technology costs, and other expenses. Moreover, public health departments are eligible to hire and train people to provide care as community health workers, public health nurses, and “any other positions as may be required to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19” using ARP money.
Additionally, the ARP includes $330 million for teaching health centers that operate graduate medical education programs. Likewise, the ARP increases funding for community health centers by providing $7.6 billion to health centers to use for COVID-19-related purposes, including workforce development and training necessary to help clinicians and staff treat COVID-19 patients.
Therefore, public health departments and health centers can use ARP funds to purchase simulators to help clinicians learn and develop primary care skills. Considering that clinical hours with patients had to be cut due to the surge of COVID-19 patients, simulation offers a safer way of training students and ensuring that they have the clinical experience needed to provide effective care.
Students and staff at community health departments and health centers can use many low-cost and portable skill trainers to practice and hone primary care skills. For example, participants can practice injection and IV placement, auscultating the heart and lungs, taking and interpreting vital signs like blood pressure, performing breast and gynecological exams, performing men’s health exams, wound care, and other essential procedures used to provide patient care at these facilities.
You can apply for funding through the U.S. Treasury Portal.
 “The Effect of COVID-19 on Hospital Financial Health.” Kaufman, Hall & Associates, July 2020, https://www.aha.org/system/files/media/file/2020/07/KH-COVID-Hospital-Financial-Health_FINAL.pdf. PDF.
 Meara, Killian. “Existing Treatment Saves the Lives of Covid-19 Patients.” ContagionLive, https://www.contagionlive.com/view/existing-treatment-saves-the-lives-of-covid-19-patients. Accessed 28 June, 2021.
 Breitbart, Atrid, et al. “Evaluation of PEEP and prone positioning in early COVID-19 ARDS.” EClinicalMedicine – The Lancet, vol. 23, no. 29, 2020, pp. 1-9. PDF.
 “CDC Crisis Response Cooperative Agreement: COVID-19 Public Health Workforce Supplemental Funding Guidance.” CDC, 14 May, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/readiness/funding-ph.htm.