The nation’s hospitals are urging Congress to quickly provide $100 billion in emergency funding through the phase 3 stimulus bill or risk the closure of cash-strapped facilities nationwide just as the Covid-19 outbreak reaches the critical stage.
“Now, I know that’s going to sound like a lot of money, but it’s what’s needed to adequately respond to this once-in-a-century event,” said Rick Pollack, president and chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association in a press conference Saturday. “The reality is that we are in a war in which hospitals and health systems are on the front lines and our health care workers are putting their lives on the line to fight this battle.”
Pollack said hospitals and health systems are having trouble meeting payroll, getting protective gear, and paying for cleaning supplies because their revenue from elective surgeries has dried up due to state and federal directives to halt nonessential medical procedures during the pandemic.
The loss of revenue, coupled with increased and rising costs for staffing, supplies and preparation for the expected surge in Covid-19 patients “could mean that hospitals, many hospitals, won’t survive the financial strain,” Pollack said.
The Senate Republican coronavirus economic package is expected to total about $2 trillion, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said as he arrived at the Capitol Saturday for a new day of negotiations.
“The package is coming in at about 10% of GDP. It’s very large,” Kudlow told reporters, agreeing that it could top $2 trillion. It’s unclear whether that figure includes a supplemental spending proposal that Democrats favor.
The negotiations have been complicated by both parties’ differing views about what federal economic assistance and relief should target during a national crisis that has such profound medical and economic impact.
Senate Democrats want the legislation to include more support for furloughed workers and medical providers fighting the outbreak. Senate Republicans and the White House are focused on boosting the economy through proposed tax rebates of up to $1,200 for individuals and hundreds of billions in loans for businesses affected by the outbreak.
But even hospitals in areas where Covid-19 infections haven’t spiked are feeling economic pressure.
J. Scott Graham, CEO of Three Rivers and North Valley Hospitals in rural Washington state, said they’ll get $150,000 in emergency state assistance on March 23 which should provide an extra five to eight days of payroll.
But if they can’t get more cash in the next two weeks, they’ll have to notify Three Rivers staff and the community “that we will no longer be able to be in business and that we will have to close the hospital,” Graham said.
“We will exhaust all avenues to make payroll in the next three to four weeks,” he added.
LaRay Brown, president and CEO, One Brooklyn Health System, in New York City, said the cost of cleaning and medical supplies have jumped 20-25% since the pandemic began. And the cancellation of elective surgeries will cost the system millions of dollars each month.
“Just last night our CFO said ‘how are we going to pay people? More money is going out than coming in.’” Brown said.
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