BALTIMORE — Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger was in Baltimore on Thursday unveiling new legislation, that would provide "hero pay,” to hospital workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"During this once in a life time global pandemic, our hearts have been tested and we have endured the daily struggle of fighting an invisible foe that has claimed the lives of so many, including those close to us," said Mercy Medical Center President & CEO Dr. David Maine.
It's called the Dr. Joseph J. Costa Honoring Essential Americans Risking Their Safety, or HEARTS, Act, named after an ICU doctor at Mercy Medical Center who treated COVID patients before dying from the disease himself in July.
"It really shook us to our core," said Maine.
Under the proposed legislation, hospital workers (doctors, nurses, specialists and non-medical staff) who work in close proximity to COVID-19 patients in federally-designated hotspots could receive an extra $225 a month, the same amount US troops deployed to combat receive.
"This federal legislation will compensate hospital workers like Dr. Costa, who are assuming extraordinary risk to themselves and their families in order to keep the rest of us safe and alive," said Ruppersberger.
"I think he would be so proud to have his name on this bill which is going to help and protect his fellow health care providers so I’m just very honored on behalf of Joe and his family," said David Hart, husband of Dr. Joseph Costa.
Hart hopes this legislation also brings awareness to the continued fight and importance of prevention.
"Please wear your masks and practice social distancing. By doing so, you’re helping to save the lives of heroes who work here at Mercy and around the country," said Hart.
Hospitals would be able to apply for the funds on behalf of their employees if they are in a COVID-19 hotspot, based on hospitalization rates. It would be retroactive to March to cover those previously considered hotspots.
Some benefits in the bill would be extended to nursing home employees exposed to the virus, by way of student loan forgiveness.
Those who qualify could have 50 percent of their student loan debt forgiven, and/or receive federal grants to cover half of their career training tuition.
The legislation still faces major hurdles before officially being signed into law. Both branches of Congress, including the U.S. House and Senate would have to sign off before it could go to President Trump's desk.