Rounds sponsors bipartisan bill to ramp up number of federal emergency healthcare staff

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) on Oct. 17 introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure ample numbers of healthcare personnel are on hand to respond to national disasters and emergencies.

Sen. Rounds sponsored the United States Public Health Service Modernization Act of 2019, S. 2629, with U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) to establish a Ready Reserve Corps within the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps to oversee staffing of such healthcare professionals.

“We must make certain vital healthcare services remain available to our citizens when Commissioned Corps Officers are called away from their duty stations,” Sen. Rounds said. “By creating a Ready Reserve Corps within USPHS, we’ll be better equipped to fill these vital positions, such as doctors and nurses at IHS [Indian Health Service] facilities, when the Regular Corps Officers need to respond to a national emergency.”

In addition to IHS, the USPHS Commissioned Corps, which is comprised of more than 6,500 full-time officers working in public health and disease prevention, fill health service roles within other federal agencies and programs, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

During national emergencies, USPHS officers are relocated from their stationed roles within these agencies to help with public health emergencies in other areas, leaving their former jobs vacant and potentially putting public health at risk in the areas they’ve left, according to Sen. Rounds’ statement.

The bill would create a reserve that would allow duty stations to fill those vacant positions, according to the senator’s statement.

The bill has been referred for consideration to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.