State hospitals lost more than $ 8 billion last year in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report commissioned by the California Hospital Association.
Additionally, financial challenges are expected to continue in California, with projected losses of $ 600-2 billion, said KaufmanHall, a Chicago-based healthcare consultant.
The report tells a story from the hospitals in the valley.
For example, Kaweah Health lost $ 23.1 million in 2020 – and that was after receiving massive relief from federal funding.
But now, with the upsurge in COVID cases and the Biden administration in charge, hospital officials are asking when they will receive the next round of help.
The answer to this $ 52.5 billion question is unclear.
According to the Washington Post, $ 44 billion from the Provider Relief Fund created last year remains intact, as does an additional $ 8.5 billion that Congress set aside in March for medical care in rural areas.
Big losses for California hospitals
Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association, said hospitals across the state suffered huge losses last year and will continue to suffer financial setbacks due to staff shortages and the increase in COVID cases among the unvaccinated.
KaufmanHall found that California hospitals lost more than $ 14 billion in 2020, although funding for COVID relief through CARES made up for these losses of $ 6 billion.
The study noted that community hospitals were among the hardest hit.
The blow to the results of hospitals is not weakening.
“More than 200 California hospitals could lose money from their operations in 2021, and more than 250 could struggle to break even, more than before the pandemic,” KaufmanHall said.
Hospitals in the valley particularly affected
Laura Florez-McCusker, director of media relations for Visalia-based Kaweah Health, said the healthcare system suffered a cumulative operating loss of $ 68.7 million in fiscal year 2020-2021 .
The only bright spot, said Kaweah Health CEO Gary Herbst, getting $ 47.4 million from the CARES Act.
“So going from $ 15 million to $ 18 million of positive margin to a loss of $ 68 million over a 13-month period – it had an absolutely devastating effect,” Herbst said.
To cut costs, the hospital had to freeze salary increases for 5,100 employees and forgo contributions to funds for 401,000 employees.
Valley Children spokeswoman Zara Arboleda acknowledged the pressure hospitals are feeling from the pandemic.
“Hospitals across the country have suffered revenue losses in the tens or even hundreds of millions since March of last year, including Valley Children,” Arboleda said.
As hospitals struggle, federal government clings to funding
Meanwhile, critics say the Biden administration is sitting on approved funding that U.S. hospitals desperately need.
“There has not been a single penny of state money made available to hospitals or other health care providers. California Hospital Association. “$ 44 billion is currently in the Treasury Department that was supposed to be allocated to hospitals and nursing homes across the country to help cover the costs of COVID. These funds were never allocated, so they stay there. “
According to the Washington Post, health officials, lobbyists and lawmakers have complained to senior health officials in the Biden administration about the delay in aid.
US Secretary of Health Xavier Becerra has been asked several times about providers’ funds. He replied that during the Trump administration there was not enough transparency to show how the money was being used. When this issue is resolved, the funds will be released, Becerra said.
“We continue to work quickly to release these funds and will be announcing another fund distribution soon – plans are being finalized,” HHS said in a statement.
Could staff shortages add to the financial pressure on hospitals?
Employees of hospitals, nursing homes, doctor’s offices, clinics and other medical facilities will have until September 30 to get vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption – a prescription issued by California Public Health Officer Dr Tomás J. Aragón.
Hospitals in need of vaccinations could see an unexpected number of nurses leave the profession, creating new headaches for hospitals facing staffing and financial shortages.
As of July 23, according to CalMatters, “23% of the nearly 500,000 hospital workers in more than 350 California hospitals (had) not received a single dose of vaccine.
Fresno County interim health worker Dr Rais Vohra does not see the vaccination mandate amplifying the nursing shortage. He noted that the vast majority of healthcare workers have said they will comply with the deadline.
“I don’t think the hospitals are worried that this is a huge sum,” Vohra said. “We hear that 60-80% are vaccinated, and that’s the ballpark figure for most hospitals in terms of the number of vaccinations for their staff. “
Emerson-Shea says there is no way to know this will play out.
“We support the demand that all healthcare workers be immunized – healthcare workers have a special role in our society and in hospitals,” said Emerson-Shea. “So we support this requirement for vaccination, but how is it actually going to play out? I don’t think anyone really knows.