By Craig Beam

The coronavirus pandemic is like nothing any of us has ever experienced. But without question, preparing for this crisis has been akin to a disaster for many of our partners and other healthcare organizations.

Fortunately, the Federal Emergency Management Administration is offering to reimburse organizations for COVD-19 preparedness. In the national region that includes California, a pool of $520 million is available.

Applying for these relief funds requires specific storytelling and documentation. Our Petra team – with 35 years in helping clients secure FEMA reimbursements – can help you navigate this process efficiently. We bring unparalleled talents in strategy planning and project management to this task.

Who – And What – Is Eligible?

Public and nonprofit hospitals and medical groups are eligible to apply for these dedicated FEMA funds, authorized in late March.

Unlike traditional federal relief that supports post-disaster rebuilding and repairs, this FEMA initiative will cover anything related to your organization’s efforts to prepare for COVD-19 patients. That includes physical expenses, such as building for surge capacity, medical devices and Personal Protective Equipment. It also can include human capital needs, such as deploying traveling nurses and augmenting your house staff – even hiring additional security guards to take temperatures before letting anyone enter your facility. These grants will reimburse only 75 percent of your costs, which, according to the Healthcare Financial Management Association, makes FEMA a “payer of last resort” for some organizations.

As with Paycheck Protection Program loans, we expect these dollars will go quickly. While FEMA initially requested applicants to register within 30 days, the immediacy of the crisis put this on the back burner for many eligible organizations who truly need these funds.

We encourage our clients and others to register quickly and not lose out on this opportunity, which might be a one-time chance for FEMA relief. In fact, our trusted relationships with the regional FEMA team has helped us get this important insight.

Once you’ve registered and have been deemed eligible, that’s when the tough work begins. The key steps to preparing an effective application include:

  • Know what you’re doing. Answer questions thoroughly and provide requested documentation. Make sure you’re complying with the various and specific FEMA rules.
  • Be persistent. Even those with experience can take a month to complete a claim. And be ready to appeal if you initially get declined.
  • Be prepared to articulate why you need this assistance. Your accounting records should underscore your need, but know how to clearly explain how you spent that money and why it was important to serving your locality and protecting your organization.
  • Trust your documentation. Build on solid accounting principles and ensure your numbers speak the truth. Bring in other supporting narratives to tell the story of how you navigated preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

One additional note, many hospitals and medical groups furloughed large volumes of workers at the start of the crisis, in large part as demand for routine care dropped and elective surgeries were suspended. As we move into our third month, some localities are starting to reopen, and you’re bringing back employees to return operations closer to normal. In this critical time, consider how to best use your people and their talents. Turning to a partner such as Petra can allow your people to dedicate energy to your patient care mission, while we focus on building your comprehensive FEMA application.

About the Process

On the surface, the application process seems straightforward enough. But detailed levels of documentation and supporting financial recordkeeping must be provided. Even during the review process, FEMA can decline an application due to missing materials or incomplete narratives, and you need some process savvy to get your request back on track.

Trust us. We’ve been doing this for 35 years, as we helped our partners get relief funds after suffering earthquakes and wildfires. Applying for COVID-19 relief is a very similar process. The only difference is that coronavirus preparedness assistance is Category B (Emergency Protection Preparedness), while natural disaster damage recovery is Category D.

Is it easy to apply? Based on the countless applications I’ve been involved with over that time, I liken it to filing your taxes annually with the Internal Revenue Service. There are many nuances, and this is something you should entrust to those with expert experience, who know the program’s ins and outs. You don’t want to get turned down on a technicality you missed.

Telling Your Story

The most important thing about the application is how compelling a story you tell. FEMA requires you to provide some narrative about where you made these investments and why, particularly if you needed to work around standard protocols – including bid processes – to ensure you were ready if and when your community saw its first COVID-19 case.

This is where Petra can help make a difference. We understand from nearly four decades of working with FEMA what they are looking for in those responses, and we can help reduce the risks of your organization being denied for deficiencies in your claims. That’s not uncommon, and we use proven strategies to advocate for you.

We understand what materials you need to collect and submit. Fortunately, we’ve discovered that many organizations proactively set up cost accounting to track COVID-19-related expenses, and that’s a foundation for compiling an effective claims application.

We also can help identify the best people on your staff with the deep knowledge to support your nomination. That includes your leadership, risk management and accounting teams to start. It’s also not a bad idea to involve your public affairs team, particularly if you have a lobbyist either on staff or on retainer. They can help publicize your need and raise your profile with your federal legislators, in case you need additional support for an appeal.

Next Steps

Our Petra team is here to help you, and we bring our knowledge of the application process and the related politics of seeking federal assistance. To us, providing this capability is an extension of our overall product line. Not only do we bring operational insights, but we can also offer this service at a lower rate than an accounting or consulting firm.

FEMA is helping to ease the burden that preparing for COVID-19 patients put on your organization. We know this crisis has your people being heroes every day in caring for patients – and that should always be your top priority. But with a strategic partner to lead you through this process and even take on a lot of the heavy lifting, you don’t have to miss out on critical financial assistance.

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