A bipartisan proposal in Congress backed by Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican Rep. John Katko would designate academic medical centers as research hubs in order to speed up the response to emerging public health threats. 

The proposal comes as new COVID cases have waned in areas with a high rate of vaccination, but also amid concerns of future pandemics and public health threats. The plan would raise funding in order to use academic medical centers, which have played a key role in the current pandemic. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our society, economy and public health systems, and we must do everything in our power to prevent and prepare for future public health emergencies. This funding is about building a comprehensive health and national security strategy to protect and equip the United States in the event of another devastating emergency,” Gillibrand said. "This lifesaving funding, accompanied by the bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, would provide critical startup funding to strengthen our nation’s emergency response preparedness as we battle the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and build resiliency against any future pandemic or public health crises.”

The program would spend $500 million and provie $10 million to at least 10 academic medical centers for real-time response efforts to and to boost preparedness for a future public health crisis. The money would come from a public health and social services emergency fund to pay for the grant program. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also proposing a bill that would allow Health and Human Services officials to award grants, contracts or cooperative agreements to academic medical centers to pay for work on COVID-19 patient care and recovery, mental health resources for frontline workers and promoting health equity. 

“Medical centers like SUNY Upstate Medical University and the University of Rochester were at the forefront of our pandemic response and recovery efforts. The critical research being done by our academic medical centers not only informed public health guidance to keep us safe but advanced several life-saving medical breakthroughs," Katko said. “But more than a year has passed since the pandemic began, and we still have many unanswered questions. That’s why, I’m introducing the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act with Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Bill Cassidy. This bipartisan and bicameral bill will support our local medical centers, funding additional research to provide us with a better understanding of COVID-19 variants, the impacts this virus has on our health, and how to better prepare for future public health emergencies.”