Doctors call on GOP to stop ‘holding hostage’ COVID vaccine funds

By: - March 16, 2021 1:43 pm

The West Michigan Vaccine Clinic | Spectrum Health Beat/Chris Clark

Michigan physicians are calling on state Republicans to work with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on allocating COVID-19 relief funds for health care workers, schools and vaccine distribution.

“As physicians, we’re extremely concerned that Republicans in the Legislature continue to block resources that can save lives and safely reopen our schools and economy,” said family physician and state lead of the Committee to Protect Medicare Farhan Bhatti. “Partisan games and lawsuits intended to reduce Gov. Whitmer’s authority are truly dangerous. Every day the Republican politicians refuse to give health care workers all the tools and support we need to protect people is another day they’re prolonging Michiganders pain and suffering, and it’s likely leading to more deaths from COVID-19.”

Earlier this month, the GOP-led Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief package which spent some of the $5.6 billion in federal aid that was passed by Congress late last year, but it included some stipulations to the money — including a bill that would have stripped the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) of its power to shut down schools.

The next week, Whitmer signed $2.5 billion of supplemental funding and vetoed legislation to quash her administration’s executive powers. 

Since then, the state Senate passed a measure that would allow Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) to sue Whitmer if she allocated the money without legislative approval and House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) stated that he would would not meet with the Whitmer administration to discuss releasing additional federal dollars unless there were negotiations regarding her administration’s executive powers during the pandemic. 

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Spokespeople for House and Senate Republicans did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the doctors’ criticism.

During a press conference, three physicians from West Michigan and Lansing talked about how imperative it is from a health care perspective that these funds are allocated without a hold up from the Legislature. 

Harland Holman, a family physician from Grand Rapids said he still has many patients who have recently tested positive with COVID-19 or are struggling with mental health issues due to the pandemic. 

As of Monday, more than 610,000 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 15,783 have died from the disease. There was previously a drop in new cases, but Michigan has seen an uptick in case numbers in the last three weeks and more contagious COVID-19 variants have been spreading in communities, as well. 

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“From a physician’s perspective, I see vaccinations as the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m excited about that,” Holman said. “And it really is our best tool of saving more lives, so we need all the resources we can get to make this work. We really need to be focusing on getting shots in arms.”

Whitmer announced last week that by April 5 all Michiganders ages 16 and older will be able to get the vaccination. As of Monday, almost 25% of Michigan’s population in that age group has been vaccinated.

“I just worked all weekend and a couple of patients that got admitted were some of the sickest people I’ve seen in this pandemic,” said Rob Davidson, executive director of Committee to Protect Medicare and a West Michigan ER doctor. “The politicians have stopped preventing health workers from doing our jobs. The science and the evidence are clear. Vaccines are essential to a better future for countless families in Michigan, and eradicating the community transmission through vaccinations is the key. 

“If we ever want to get back to normal, Republicans must stop holding hostage the resources that can help prevent sickness and death. They must be held accountable for putting partisan misinformation and frank power grabs ahead of people’s lives and livelihoods.“

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.