Hospital leaders plead for financial help, warn of closures, missing payroll

By | March 21, 2020

Hospital executives from across the country sounded the alarm on Saturday morning about the dire need for federal financial aid as their cash on hand continues to erode amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We’ll exhaust all avenues to make payroll in the next few weeks,” Scott Graham, CEO of Three Rivers and North Valley Hospitals in rural Washington, said during a call with reporters on Saturday morning.

The American Hospital Association is urging lawmakers on Capitol Hill to consider deploying at least $ 100 billion to aid hospitals fight against the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The relief package would fund medical personnel, supplies and infrastructure, and expenses related to COVID-19, Rick Pollack, CEO of AHA, told reporters. 

Without a relief package, Pollack warned it “could mean that many hospitals won’t survive.” The pleas came as Congress debates a stimulus package this weekend.

American life has ground to halt as experts urge the public to distance themselves from others in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Many states closed bars and restaurants with virtually all group events canceled. Likewise, hospitals have been asked — or required in some locales — ​ to halt all elective procedures to free up resources for an expected surge of patients. 

But hospitals rely on those typically lucrative procedures to drive revenue. Some hospitals are starting to wonder how they’ll keep the lights on after facing the reality of canceled procedures and the need to increase staff and supplies to combat the pathogen. 

On top of that, hospitals are unable to get much needed supplies as some vendors are requiring payment on delivery, funds they do not have. 

There is no time to waste, hospital leaders warned, citing less than two weeks cash on hand. 

“We need to get this done now,” Pollack said of an emergency funding package from the federal government. 

Despite the dire financial strain, hospitals are still preparing to increase capacity to meet a surge in demand. It’s unclear whether they will be reimbursed for all expenses related to increasing the amount of beds, capacity and supplies. 

Some areas were already facing a shortage of nurses and physicians before the outbreak and anticipate that to become worse. 

“In spite of our existing financial challenges, we are planning to increase capacity because that is what we must do,” LaRay Brown, CEO of One Brooklyn Health System in New York, said Saturday. One Brooklyn​ operates three hospitals, nursing homes and community health centers in New York, serving about 2 million.

Brown said all hospitals in New York were asked yesterday by state health officials to submit plans for the upping capacity by 50% of existing bed count.

Brown anticipates receiving some support from the state of New York but seemed wary of the state’s future financial footing as it battles the pathogen as well, and with a weakened tax base as businesses have shuttered. 

“This is why I’m on this call,” Brown said. “We need immediate cash relief from the federal government.” 

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