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Baker Requests Federal Disaster Assistance, Asks Med Schools To Graduate Students Early

Gov. Charlie Baker holds a coronavirus update press conference in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House on March 26, 2020. (Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe)
Gov. Charlie Baker holds a coronavirus update press conference in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House on March 26, 2020. (Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe)

Gov. Charlie Baker gave an update on the state's coronavirus response Thursday afternoon, making a number of new announcements alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

Here's a breakdown of what they said.

Mass. Requests Federal Disaster Assistance

Massachusetts has submitted a request through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for federal disaster assistance, Baker said. If approved, it would free up more funding and resources to bolster what became available following Baker's earlier emergency declaration at the state level, including:

Measures To Bolster Medical Staffing

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting severe strain on health care staffing. Frontline medical workers face an increased risk of contracting the highly contagious disease.

Sudders announced the state is exempting hospitals from nurse-to-patient ratio requirements to give medical facilities more flexibility in treating people who are sick. The current nurse-to-patient ratio law only applies to intensive care units. It requires a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio, depending on the severity of the patient's condition.

The state is working with Massachusetts medical school deans to graduate students early, Sudders said, and is prepared to offer "almost automatic" 90-day licenses to those graduates. Boston University announced Thursday afternoon it will graduate its medical students early in response to the request. There will also be expedited license renewal for physicians and other care providers in "good standing," Sudders said, to "increase the cadre" of medical personnel on the frontlines.

In addition, the state is allowing pharmacists to remotely process prescription orders, and allowing pharmacists "who are licensed in other states and in good standing" to practice in Massachusetts.

Push For Personal Protective Equipment

"We continue to work the supply chain hard," Sudders said of efforts to acquire needed personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, for medical workers and other first responders.

Baker expressed frustration about getting PPE orders from the federal government fulfilled and into the state. Just 17% of the state's requests from the national stockpile of emergency medical supplies have been met so far, Sudders said.

"We are doing everything we can, through an incredibly messy thicket that is enormously frustrating for all of us, to try to get them the gear that they deserve and they need," Baker said.

Support For Homeless Population And People With Disabilities

Newton Pavilion, located on the Boston Medical Center campus, will temporarily reopen to provide medical support to people in the city who are homeless, Baker announced. The facility is owned by the state. Two more homeless care locations opened last week: the Barbara McInnis House and 112 Southampton Street.

Sudders said the state continues to work with homeless care providers across Massachusetts to establish, supply and staff facilities to offer care for the homeless population. Some tent-medicine facilities are now operational in Boston.

There are more than 36,000 people in Massachusetts with "profound disabilities" who receive care from MassHealth personal care attendants, who "assist people with long-term disabilities who live at home." Without those attendants, Sudders said, that group would be at risk of being moved into nursing homes or other facilities to continue receiving care.

Sudders said the state is working to come up with alternatives in case a personal care attendant becomes sick or is unable to come to work, partnering with SEIU Local 1199 — which represents personal care attendants — as well as a wide network of home care providers, to form a contingency plan. A hotline (1-844-422-6277) also went live Wednesday, Sudders said.

"Gratefully, at this point, calls to the hotline are small. But ... obviously we're assuming if we continue to have community spread, that PCAs will be affected," she said.

Jack Mitchell Twitter Digital Audio Editor
Jack Mitchell works on Project CITRUS, which explores the future of on-demand audio on emerging tech platforms.

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