By Angie Franks
COVID-19 is scary and unpredictable for everyone, including healthcare providers. The brave frontline clinicians putting their health and safety at risk to treat COVID-19 patients are heroes and deserve all of the commendations they have been receiving—and then some.
What is unfortunate, however, is that while so many clinicians have worked tirelessly in full facilities, many waited—or are still waiting—for a surge in nearly empty buildings with ample inventories of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE).
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Meanwhile, hospitals across the country suffered a brutal month financially in April, as steep volume and revenue declines drove record-poor margin performance—setting the stage for not only a difficult recovery, but a permanently changed healthcare delivery environment, according to Kaufman Hall. Operating margins fell 174% in April compared to the same period last year and were down 118% from March, as hospitals felt the first full month of COVID-19’s impacts. These financial challenges, which are ongoing, have resulted in pay cuts, furloughs and permanent layoffs at hospitals across the country.
One factor that has magnified these financial problems was the early decision by many states to issue mandates to discontinue elective procedures. While some states are beginning to allow elective procedures again, in many cases the damage is already done due to an unnecessary pause in these services during the past few months.
Certainly, many patients had already canceled or would have canceled elective surgeries and other procedures to avoid visiting a healthcare facility, but others who have been waiting weeks or months to receive a procedure to potentially improve their lives or eliminate chronic pain or other issues would have jumped at the chance to have their procedures done as scheduled. Keep in mind that many procedures labeled “elective” are still medically necessary.
The widespread cost-cutting measures taking place now could have been avoided with broader-scale planning and coordination between health systems with specialty centers and the community hospitals that refer patients to them. Certainly, treating patients with COVID-19 and preventing the spread of the virus should be the top priority. Yet with better visibility into available beds, provider capacity, PPE and equipment availability and some creative thinking, more non-COVID 19 patients could have safely received needed care while allowing elective procedures to proceed—which could have stemmed significant financial losses for healthcare organizations.