U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell visited Owensboro Health Regional Hospital on Thursday morning to applaud the health system’s employees for their response to COVID-19.
McConnell also shared his thoughts about rebooting the economy, the CARES Act and requests for more federal assistance.
Near the beginning of his remarks, he compared health care workers battling the new coronavirus to first responders who ran into New York City’s burning twin towers during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Health care workers demonstrated the same type of bravery, he said, especially during the early days when little was known about the virus.
“... It took actual physical courage for these folks, who are on the front lines here, to go deal with these patients, not knowing fully what we were dealing with yet,” McConnell said.
Most of his press conference, however, dealt with other issues.
For example, he noted that Kentucky received about $11 billion in funding from the CARES Act. Of that, $1 billion went to health care.
OH received about $17 million in CARES Act funding, McConnell said.
Other Owensboro organizations received nearly $4.6 million as a result of the CARES Act, including funding for the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, Owensboro Community & Technical College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, Brescia University, Audubon Area Community Care Clinic and the Housing Authority of Owensboro.
The CARES Act was written in haste and added about $3 trillion to the nation’s debt, McConnell said. It marks the first time since World War II the national debt has grown as large as the economy.
It’s too soon to talk about another federal rescue package, he said. Instead, McConnell wants Congress to pause and assess actions already taken.
“In a few weeks, I think we’ll be able to begin to measure how much the opening up of the economy begins to restore our economic situation,” McConnell said.
The nation’s economy went through a cataclysmic event, he said. In February, it was enjoying one of the best runs in 50 years. Two months later, it fell to depths reminiscent of the Great Depression.
“If there’s another bill, it will not look anything like this $3 trillion grab bag that the House passed a couple of weeks ago. They basically threw everything but the kitchen sink in there ... That, in my view, was not a serious effort to address where we are and where we may go,” he said.
McConnell was critical of the $600 weekly benefit added to unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 crisis, calling it a “bonus to stay home.” The benefit expires in July.
In coming months, he said, the nation needs to focus on children returning to their classrooms in the fall and saving jobs.
Regarding the virus, McConnell said testing, treatment and a vaccine are priorities.
McConnell and OH leaders walked out of the hospital Thursday wearing face masks. He and fellow senators have worn masks and observed physical distancing for the past three weeks.
At the press conference, speakers removed their face masks only when they stepped in front of the microphone. The event was conducted outdoors.
McConnell encouraged everyone in the public to wear masks and called for everyone to end the stigma surrounding masks. “We are all in this together,” he said.
Greg Strahan, OH president and CEO, was the first to speak. He thanked Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly and Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson for their support during the crisis.
“We are grateful — extremely grateful — for the leadership that Senator McConnell has given us, and his response by authoring the CARES Act,” Strahan said.
The federal financial assistance allowed the health system to avoid layoffs.
“I dare say if they had not issued this bill that he authored, there would be many hospitals in the state of Kentucky and across the country that would not be here today, and that would be a travesty,” Strahan said.
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, firstname.lastname@example.org