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Hospitals taking steps to ensure stability

Staff writer

A pandemic straining many hospitals to their limits to care for the number of critically-ill patients is forcing area hospitals to adjust staffing and pay to keep operating.

St. Luke Hospital in Marion is taking some necessary steps to maintain financial stability.

CEO Jeremy Ensey said cancelations and lower use of services such as laboratory, therapy, and clinic visits led the hospital to close the front desk, clinic, laboratory, and radiology departments at noon on Fridays; freeze employee pay rates; suspend employer match for retirement accounts; and cut one hour of work a week for office and management employees who do not provide direct patient care.

Newton Medical Center also announced Friday that staff pay and benefits will be adjusted at the hospital and its clinics in Newton, Hesston, Park City, Valley Center and Wichita.

Preventative health screenings, elective surgeries, and outpatient services are being reduced because of revenue losses.

CEO Val Gleason said a combination of lost revenue, increased expenses, and other economic factors tied to COVID-19 have significantly affected the financial stability of the hospital.

Pay will be decreased for executive and managerial staff, employees will get pay cuts as well as hour cuts or furloughs, employee benefits will be reduced, clinic hours will be shortened, and its Sunflower Café at the hospital will be temporarily closed.

Cindy Samuelson, spokesman for Kansas Hospital Association, said COVID-19 has had financial effects on hospitals throughout the state. The pandemic has increased expenses for supplies and staffing to prepare for COVID-19 cases, while cancelation of appointments and elective procedures have hurt revenue. The impacts differ from one region to another, she said.

“Hospitals are taking a variety of steps … to continue to be there for their communities,” Samuelson said.

State and federal legislators are trying to identify ways to provide financial and regulatory relief to hospitals and health care providers, she said.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which provides financial relief and resources to people and businesses hard-hit by the COVID-19 emergency, includes a number of health care provisions.

An emergency fund for hospitals and health systems, and three Medicaid payment changes are expected to make $117 billion in new funding available nationwide, Samuelson said.

“Part of the CARES Act is the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which is a loan to help cover payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent and utility costs over the eight-week period after the loan is made,” Ensey said. “As a district hospital, we are not eligible for the program as it currently stands. The American Hospital Association and National Rural Health Association have been lobbying to try to change this as there are many critical access hospitals that receive some sort of tax support. Because there is some question on whether we may be eligible in the future, we are going to apply for this program.”

Samuelson said the Kansas Hospital Association is evaluating the potential financial impact of new loan opportunities, and a number of loan and payroll tax provisions that could help.

“This legislation will help those hospitals from rural and urban communities that are in dire financial need due to this devastating pandemic,” she said. “KHA is also working with KDHE and the governor’s office for some additional relief to hospitals, beyond what is in the CARES Act.”

Samuelson said the public plays a vital role in helping hospitals help them.

“It is critically important that they use the health care system appropriately, take proper precautions, and practice social distancing to ensure that precious hospital resources are available for those who need them,” she said.

Social isolation and distancing reduces the spread of the virus and limits exposure of vulnerable people. Curbing the spread will help hospitals manage their resources, Samuelson said.

Last modified April 9, 2020

 

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