WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are pushing for funding to establish a COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Program to designate academic medical centers as research and communication hubs that will improve the United States’ ability to swiftly respond to emerging public health threats and to continue battling COVID-19. Academic medical centers have been at the forefront of our nation’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and have historically been used to establish infrastructure for advancing live-saving medical discoveries. This forward thinking federal investment would provide direct support and fortify our nation’s emergency response preparedness by supporting cutting-edge research, education, patient care, and community outreach. The senators’ letter is accompanied by the bipartisan COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, which is led by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-07) and Congressman John Katko (R-NY-24) in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“You have to be prepared when there is a public health crisis. This bill is about science preparing us for the next pandemic,” said Dr. Cassidy.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our society, economy and public health systems, and we must do everything in our power to prevent and prepare for future public health emergencies. This funding is about building a comprehensive health and national security strategy to protect and equip the United States in the event of another devastating emergency,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This lifesaving funding, accompanied by the bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, would provide critical startup funding to strengthen our nation’s emergency response preparedness as we battle the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and build resiliency against any future pandemic or public health crises.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the lives of so many Americans all across the country,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “This pandemic isn’t the first that our country has overcome and it most certainly won’t be the last, which makes it imperative that we invest in strategies and resources to prepare for the next epidemic. The COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act will provide funding to our academic medical centers so that they can research and communicate ways the United States can improve in its ability to respond to any emerging public health crisis and continue the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. By investing in the academic medical centers, which have historically been at the core of discovering life-saving medicine, we can strengthen our nation’s preparedness for any future public health emergency.”
“Medical centers like SUNY Upstate Medical University and the University of Rochester were at the forefront of our pandemic response and recovery efforts. The critical research being done by our academic medical centers not only informed public health guidance to keep us safe but advanced several life-saving medical breakthroughs,” said Congressman Katko. “But more than a year has passed since the pandemic began, and we still have many unanswered questions. That’s why, I’m introducing the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act with Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Bill Cassidy. This bipartisan and bicameral bill will support our local medical centers, funding additional research to provide us with a better understanding of COVID-19 variants, the impacts this virus has on our health, and how to better prepare for future public health emergencies.”
“Since the early days of the pandemic, each of our eight LSU campuses across the state have worked incredibly hard to create and deliver vital resources to support Louisiana’s public health and surveillance efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, including testing, treatment, vaccination, ongoing care for COVID-19 survivors, and viral genomic sequencing. We are extremely pleased to be an early leader in support of the Creation of the National Centers of Excellence Program, and we look forward to continued research success that will positively impact the people of our state and beyond,” said LSU Interim President Tom Galligan.
“One of our strongest tools against COVID-19 is the sharing of scientific knowledge and best practices developed by physicians and scientists who’ve spent the past 18 months at the front lines caring for patients,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine and Provost of Medical Affairs of Cornell University. “The COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act is crucial to sustaining this effort by mobilizing a national coalition of academic medical centers to support comprehensive COVID-19 patient care, research, education and community outreach, and better position us to respond to future public health threats. We are grateful to Sens. Kristen Gillibrand and Bill Cassidy, and Reps. Nydia Velazquez and John Katko for seeing the value and vision in this program and for introducing this important bipartisan legislation today.”
“Academic medical centers have played a leading role in the battle against COVID-19, from innovations in patient care, rapid diagnostics and research to community engagement. Despite the successes to date, our nation struggled for far too long because we did not have a dynamic national infrastructure in place with funding that would have facilitated a rapid, collaborative response, allowing academic medical centers to expedite solutions to the urgent and concurrent needs we’ve faced throughout this pandemic. The COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act would fill that gap and accelerate real-time response both as we continue addressing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and for the next pandemic,” said Houston Methodist President and CEO Marc L. Boom, M.D.
“New York State’s seventeen medical schools continue to lead the way on treatment and research into COVID-19. They began their efforts in early 2020 when New York was the epicenter of the disease,” said Associated Medical Schools of New York President and CEO Jo Wiederhorn. “We are grateful that our congressional representatives recognize how investing in COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence will benefit our whole nation going forward.”
“The UNC School of Medicine strongly supports the bipartisan efforts behind the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act. This legislation is exactly what academic medical centers like ours need to ensure that we can continue to battle this pandemic at the bedside and in the communities hardest hit, while simultaneously supporting our frontline providers and engaging in the research needed to develop and advance therapeutics to help end the COVID-19 pandemic and be prepared for future threats to the health and safety of our nation,” said University of North Carolina School of Medicine Dean and UNC Health CEO Dr. Wesley Burks.
“I commend Sen. Gillibrand, Rep. Velazquez and the other sponsors for their leadership on this important effort. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has answered the call for research, testing and patient care during the COVID-19 public health emergency, with health sciences leaders collaborating with the State Of Ohio throughout the pandemic regarding disease transmission, pandemic modeling, the importance of evaluating and mitigating environmental risks and vaccination equity. We continue to be a leader in developing therapeutics for COVID-19, with several clinical trials underway and have established a multidisciplinary clinic to address the long-term effects of COVID. Our next step is to determine how the scientific and clinical advances achieved during the pandemic can translate to other health breakthroughs and allow us to prepare for future emergencies; this legislation will help Ohio State and other academic health centers take those next steps,” said Harold L. Paz, MD, Executive Vice President and Chancellor for Health Affairs, The Ohio State University and Chief Executive Officer, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
The United States is in need of an established and coordinated network to implement the dynamic response that is required to respond to a pandemic. Academic medical centers are already at the epicenter of integrating research, clinical operations, and education, and are uniquely positioned to develop and implement diagnostic testing and clinical care for the most complicated and critical medical cases. In the letter, the senators request a robust funding increase to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to kickstart the new Centers of Excellence grant program. The accompanying legislation, the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, would authorize $500,000,000 total for the program and would provide $10,000,000 to at least ten academic medical centers for real-time response efforts to COVID-19 and for future pandemic preparedness.
Additionally, the bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act would create a Centers of Excellence administration program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve and expedite our nation’s fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics. The Centers of Excellence model provides a holistic approach to care and has the flexibility to leverage public-private partnerships that will allow the United States to improve dissemination of clinician training, infection prevention, public health surveillance and outcomes tracking, public outreach and education, clinical research, and development for testing, treatment, and vaccines. This bill would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements to academic medical centers and would seek to expedite their proactive work on:
- COVID-19 patient care and survivor recovery
- Mental health resources for frontline health care workers
- Combating health care disparities and promoting health equity
- Robust public health endangerment research and education
- Future readiness to conduct diverse clinical trial research and vaccine research
The COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act is endorsed by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), Associated Medical Schools of New York, Solve M.E/CFS Initiative, Baylor Scott & White Health, Cornell University, Houston Methodist, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, Louisiana State University, Mass General Brigham, NYU Langone Health, Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey, Stony Brook University, The Ohio State University, The University of Utah, University of Iowa Health Care, Washington University, Atrium Health, UNC Health & UNC School of Medicine, The State University of New York and New York-Presbyterian, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), University of Rochester Medical Center, and Columbia University Irving Medical Center.