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Ready Reserve Corps Reestablished to Help During Health Care Emergencies

As we enter into the summer and continue working to get our economy back on track, COVID-19 continues to impact our country. Addressing growing public health needs has become a priority for the federal government over the past several months. We continue to be incredibly grateful to the healthcare workers who have been on the front lines throughout this pandemic—they are doing a critically important job.

In order to make sure vital health care jobs remain staffed during times of crisis, we worked to make sure my legislation to establish a Ready Reserve Corps within the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps was included in our COVID-19 relief legislation. The Ready Reserve Corps will be able to step in to fill positions at places like the Indian Health Service (IHS), which provides care to tens of thousands of South Dakotans, when USPHS Commissioned Corps officers are deployed to assist during a national emergency.

So why is this important? Let’s start by explaining the role of the USPHS. The USPHS Commissioned Corps is made up of more than 6,100 full-time officers who work in public health and disease prevention programs. Many of the officers work at federal agencies such as IHS, the Food and Drug Administration, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Coast Guard.

During times of crisis, Commissioned Corps officers are sent to help with public health emergencies, leaving a vacancy for the time they are relocated. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, thousands of USPHS workers have been deployed from their regular duty stations. This leaves a large percentage of vital public health roles empty across the country. Because of the bipartisan legislation I introduced with Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, which was included in the CARES Act, the Ready Reserve Corps was reestablished to help make sure any open positions are filled with temporary workers.

When we introduced our legislation last year, we didn’t know the severity of the health care emergency that we’d be facing in our country with COVID-19. However, we knew that not filling vacant positions at federal health care facilities like IHS would hurt the people who rely on those facilities for their care. When the Senate passed the CARES Act this spring, we pushed to make sure our Ready Reserve Corps legislation was included in it.

Recently, the Trump administration recognized and thanked the USPHS workers for their vital role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 4,500 of the 6,100 officers have deployed since the outbreak started. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar stated, “Creating a Ready Reserve for the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will improve our capability to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and future public health emergencies. One of HHS’s paramount responsibilities is to protect Americans from public health threats like infectious diseases, and Congress and the Trump administration have come together to give us a new capability for accomplishing that mission with the Ready Reserve.”

 Until our scientists and doctors are successful in finding vaccines and therapeutic treatments to combat COVID-19, it will remain a public health crisis in our country, and USPHS Commissioned Corps officers will be deployed to help out. The Ready Reserve Corps will make our public health system stronger and more prepared to deal with emergencies like this in the future.