HHS awards $21M to keep 13 major hospitals ready for the next emerging pathogen

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Monday $21 million in awards to 13 medical centers to improve preparedness for emerging special pathogens, such as COVID-19 or Ebola, within their regions.

The breakdown of funds included $1.2 million for each of 10 healthcare facilities previously established as Regional Emerging Special Pathogen Treatment Centers (RESPTCs), such as Massachusetts General Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

RESPTCs are hospitals with greater infectious disease care capabilities that act as regional hubs for the National Special Pathogen System. This week’s funding ensures that the hospitals “are continuously ready and available to care for a special pathogen patient medically evacuated from overseas or diagnosed within the United States,” HHS’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response said in its announcement.

Additionally, three new facilities—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Spectrum Health System and Washington Hospital Center—were selected to begin serving as RESPTCs and received $3 million each.

“New or emerging special pathogens are a significant threat to the nation's health, economy and national security. Our responses to Ebola, COVID-19, and monkeypox have highlighted a need to increase our readiness to respond to these threats," Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O'Connell said in the announcement. “We are taking this critical step to award new funding to our regional healthcare partners to strengthen the capabilities of their special pathogen programs and make our healthcare system better prepared to respond to these infectious diseases."

The remaining RESPTCs named in the announcement to receive $1.2 million each were NYC Health + Hospitals’ HHC Bellevue Hospital Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Emory University Hospital, University of Minnesota Medical Center, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Nebraska Medical Center, Denver Health & Hospital Authority and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Last week, HHS outlined the broader strokes of its 2022 National Biodefense Strategy, which, among other efforts, includes work to enhance hospital data collection, early detection technologies, personal protective equipment surge capacity and therapeutic capabilities.

The department said it is using existing funds to execute the strategy but “will require the support of Congress to provide additional resources, including the President’s $82 billion request for HHS over five years for pandemic preparedness and biodefense,” to hit all of its goals.