The Ohio Hospital Association said the novel coronavirus outbreak has had an estimated $1.27 billion negative impact on hospitals monthly. Pictured is Atrium Medical Center, a Premier Health Network hospital. FILE PHOTO

Ohio hospitals: Pandemic leads to $1.27B monthly hit from delayed procedures

Ohio Hospital Association said the coronavirus outbreak is having an estimated $1.27 billion negative impact on hospitals monthly, mostly from putting off procedures that can be delayed.

Ohio hospitals in mid-March said they were delaying procedures that were elective and could be delayed. The goal was to clear out the capacity to make room for coronavirus outbreak cases and to also conserve personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns, given a national shortage of the supplies fueled by the pandemic.

The hospital trade group’s spokesman John Palmer said the association surveyed the majority of its membership and estimates that 80 percent of the $1.27 billion is attributed to the suspension of non-essential surgeries and procedures.

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Locally, these losses have contributed to furloughs at Premier Health and Kettering Health Network hospitals amid the pandemic, stemming from the reduction in services provided (and staff needed to provide those services) and from the loss in revenue. Atrium Medical Center in Middletown is a part of the Premier Health Network and Fort Hamilton Hospital and Kettering Middletown are part of Kettering Health.

“Gov. DeWine’s insight to require hospitals to delay non-essential or elective surgeries has allowed hospitals to conserve much-needed personal protective equipment (gowns, masks, gloves, and face shields) that will be needed to protect healthcare workers during COVID-19,” said Sarah Hackenbract, president and CEO of Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association. “As those non-essential surgeries have been delayed due to COVID-19, several hospitals have needed to enact temporary furloughs. Hospitals continue to adjust staffing based on the care needed today, in preparation for an increase in COVID-19 patients, and as we look toward resuming non-essential surgeries.”

Kettering Health previously said the hospital “made the difficult decision to place some employees on furlough to allow them to access government benefits with waived waiting times. People who have been furloughed are still employees of Kettering Health Network and they are still receiving benefits. We look forward to welcoming them back to work once our patient volumes pick up.”

Kettering Health said where possible, employees who don’t have work in their own department are being redirected to other jobs. The health network also said its employee assistance fund helps cover expenses for furloughed employees like utilities, rent and other monthly bills. Some employees took paid time off, or in some cases used a PTO bank of more than 1,200 hours, some of it donated by other employees.

This is not just an Ohio problem. In a late March survey taking the pulse of 323 American hospitals during the pandemic, the U.S. Health and Human Services Inspector General said hospitals surveyed described increasing costs and decreasing revenues as a threat to their financial viability.

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Hospitals reported that ceasing elective procedures and other services decreased revenues, and many reported their cash reserves were quickly depleting, which could disrupt ongoing hospital operations.

Meanwhile, hospitals explained that their costs have increased as they prepare for a potential surge of patients by purchasing extra equipment (such as PPE and ventilators), remodeling rooms for negative pressure, or setting up drive-through clinics and tents.

Smaller, independent hospitals, such as rural hospitals and critical access hospitals, reported that they were at greater financial risk than those in larger systems and that they could face more financial uncertainty. As one hospital administrator observed, “There is no mothership to save us.”

Further, hospitals reported difficulty in getting reimbursed for treating patients in non-traditional spaces because there were no qualifying billing codes when treating patients in these locations. For example, to mitigate COVID-19 spread, one hospital relocated speech, occupational, and physical therapy services off-site. However, the hospital said it was unable to bill for these services because it does not own the building housing the relocated services, or meet billing requirements.

The $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus response bill included $100 billion for health care providers to help ease some of these financial problems.

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The $100 billion earmarked for health care providers in the stimulus package will help quickly re-purpose operating rooms into intensive care units, subsidize hospitals losing revenue due to canceled procedures, and hire additional staff to replace infected workers, said Ashley Thompson, the American Hospital Association’s senior vice president for policy, told the Associated Press late March.

Hospitals will also receive an additional 20% Medicare reimbursement for COVID-19 patients.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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