New US hospitals face fiscal disaster over COVID reduction cash

THOMASVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A complete city celebrated in 2020 when, early within the coronavirus pandemic, Thomasville Regional Medical Heart opened, providing state-of-the-art drugs that was beforehand unavailable in a poor, remoted a part of Alabama. The timing for the ribbon-cutting appeared excellent: New remedy choices can be accessible in an underserved space simply as a worldwide well being disaster was unfolding.

In the long run, that very same timing will be the motive for the hospital’s undoing.

Now deep within the pink two years into the pandemic, the 29-bed, $40 million hospital with a hovering, sun-drenched foyer and 110 staff is amongst three medical facilities in america that say they’re lacking out on hundreds of thousands in federal pandemic reduction cash as a result of the services are so new they lack full monetary statements from earlier than the disaster to show how a lot it price them.

In Thomasville, situated in timber nation about 95 miles (153 kilometers) north of the Gulf Coast port of Cell, hospital officers have labored greater than a 12 months to persuade federal officers they need to have gotten $8.2 million via the CARES Act, not simply the $1 million they obtained. With a complete debt of $35 million, the search will get extra pressing every day, mentioned Curtis James, the chief government officer.

“No hospital can maintain itself with out getting the CARES Act cash that everyone else acquired,” James mentioned.

Staff try to economize by slicing again on provides however residents together with Judy Hutto are nervous concerning the hospital’s future. Hutto drove there not too long ago for exams from her dwelling 15 miles (24 kilometers) out within the nation.

“The areas wants it,” she mentioned. “It’s a pleasant hospital.”

CEO Barry Beus is also making an attempt to plug a niche at Rock Regional Hospital, situated south of Wichita in Derby, Kansas. The hospital is due as a lot as $15.8 million, officers mentioned, however as a result of it solely opened in April 2019 and lacks full pre-pandemic monetary statements, it has obtained just a bit greater than $985,000.

The one factor that’s saved the ability from monetary smash up to now is the cooperation of docs, contractors and distributors who haven’t pushed for funds, he mentioned. “If we lose them, we lose the hospital,” mentioned Beus.

Three Crosses Regional Hospital opened in 2020 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and piled up a staggering $16.8 million in losses in simply three quarters whereas receiving solely $28,000 in help, mentioned Landon Fulmer, a Washington lobbyist working with all three hospitals to acquire extra funding. Every facility is being penalized for being new despite the fact that they supplied the identical expensive COVID-19 care as different medical facilities and misplaced income from different procedures together with elective surgical procedures, he mentioned.

“It actually is sort of an odd scenario in a method, one which shouldn’t have occurred,” Fulmer mentioned.

With about 420,000 well being care suppliers nationwide already receiving help from a $178 billion pot, the federal government isn’t masking 100% of losses for anybody, mentioned Chris Lundquist, a spokesman for the U.S. Well being Sources and Companies Administration, which is overseeing this system.

“HRSA has strived to supply as a lot help as attainable to as many hospitals as attainable inside the limits of the regulation and funding,” he mentioned. The company mentioned it used proxy monetary info for hospitals that opened in 2019 or 2020 to create an equitable fee system.

“They’ve all obtained funding,” mentioned Lundquist.

Whereas nearly all the help cash is spoken for, Lundquist mentioned hospitals looking for extra help can undergo an appeals course of. Hospitals can also search a supplemental appropriation or funding within the upcoming fiscal years, he mentioned. All three of the hospitals say they deserve extra.

Officers in Thomasville try to leverage congressional affect. Mayor Sheldon Day has made a number of journeys to Washington, D.C., to talk with members of the state’s congressional delegation and well being officers, and the president of the Alabama Hospital Affiliation, Dr. Don Williamson, has contacted the White Home looking for assist.

“They’ve been assured they’re going to be taken care of. However the reality is, while you’re coping with authorities entities, you don’t have the cash till you may have the cash,” mentioned Williamson.

Situated in southwest Alabama, Thomasville lies inside an impoverished space known as the Black Belt. About 70% of Black Belt residents qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, and well being care has been restricted for generations.

The final hospital shut down in Thomasville greater than a decade in the past, leaving solely hospitals that supply fewer companies within the surrounding area. Officers labored for years to safe a brand new hospital so residents wouldn’t need to drive 90 minutes for high-tech companies reminiscent of digital imaging, full surgical choices, echocardiograms, 3D mammography and extra.

Utilizing a partnership between the town and a municipal well being care authority, Thomasville Regional secured federal funding from the Division of Agriculture and opened on March 3, 2020, earlier than circumstances of COVID-19 caught fireplace within the rural South.

“We thought we had been off to a superb begin,” mentioned James, the chief government. “After which every part shut down.”

Sufferers stopped displaying up for scans, elective surgical procedures, mammographies and different moneymaking companies due to pandemic shutdowns, and monetary reviews that seemed promising turned perilous inside weeks.

Recognizing that new hospitals couldn’t calculate COVID-19 losses as a result of they couldn’t examine 2020 numbers with previous years, Well being and Human Companies allowed hospitals to make use of funds numbers for calculations reasonably than prior monetary statements. That’s how the hospital decided that it was lacking out on greater than $7 million in help, James mentioned.

Whereas the hospital remains to be ready on that help, he mentioned, the federal government did agree to supply $1 million in help that went to all different hospitals.

“That was OK, however different hospitals which can be in our area acquired $8 million, $9 million,” he mentioned.

The Birmingham-based Medical Properties Belief not too long ago gave the hospital $2 million and James mentioned leaders are assured Thomasville Regional will finally get the additional federal help. “However it would take time,” he mentioned.

Like Thomasville Regional, Rock Regional in Kansas noticed revenues dry up quickly after opening, mentioned Beus, the CEO. It’s nonetheless experiencing employees shortages due to the pandemic and having to pay a premium to journey nurses to work shifts on the wards, he mentioned, all whereas working with consultants and members of Congress simply making an attempt to remain afloat.

“It’s been somewhat irritating,” he mentioned.


The Related Press Well being & Science Division receives help from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Training. The AP is solely answerable for all content material.


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