New US hospitals face fiscal crisis over COVID relief money

THOMASville, Ala. (AP) — An entire city celebrated in 2020 when, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Thomasville Regional Medical Center opened, offering state-of-the-art medicine previously unavailable in a poor, isolated part of Alabama Was. The time to cut the ribbon seemed perfect: As the global health crisis unfolded, new treatment options would be available in an unserved region.

In the end, that same timing may be the reason for the hospital to be undone.

Now two years in the red in the pandemic, the 29-bed, $40 million hospital with a drenched, sun-drenched lobby and 110 staff is among three medical centers in the United States that they say are helping millions of people in the federal pandemic. Missing relief funds because the facilities are so new that full financial statements from pre-crisis are lacking to prove how much they cost.

In Thomasville, located in Wood Country, about 95 miles (153 kilometers) north of the Gulf Coast port of Mobile, hospital officials have worked more than a year to convince federal officials that they’ll get $8.2 million through the CARES Act. million, not just the $1 million they received. Chief Executive Officer Curtis James said that with a total debt of $35 million, the search becomes more urgent every day.

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“No hospital can sustain itself without the CARES Act money that everyone else has got,” James said.

Employees are trying to save money by cutting off supplies, but residents, including Judy Hatto, are concerned about the hospital’s future. Hutto recently left for testing from his home 15 miles (24 kilometers) out in the country.

“The regions need it,” she said. “It’s a nice hospital.”

CEO Barry Buys is also trying to bridge a gap at Rock Regional Hospital, located south of Wichita in Derby, Kansas. Officials said the hospital owed $15.8 million, but because it only opened in April 2019 and lacks full pre-pandemic financial statements, it has received a little over $985,000.

He said that the only thing that has saved the facility from financial ruin so far is the cooperation of doctors, contractors and vendors, who did not insist for payment. “If we lose them, we lose the hospital,” Buse said.

Three Cross Regional Hospital opened in 2020 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and lost $16.8 million in just three quarters while receiving only $28,000 in aid, Washington working with all three hospitals to obtain additional funding. said lobbyist Landon Fulmer. , He said each facility is being penalized for being new, even if they provided the same expensive COVID-19 care as other medical centers and lost revenue from other procedures, including elective surgeries.

“It’s actually quite a strange situation in a way that shouldn’t have happened,” Fulmer said.

Chris Lundquist, a spokesman for the US Health Resources and Services Administration overseeing the program, said that about 420,000 health care providers nationwide are already receiving aid from the $178 billion pot, with the government covering 100% of losses for anyone. is not doing.

“HRSA has endeavored to provide as many hospitals as possible assistance within the limits of the law and funding,” he said. The agency said it used proxy financial information for hospitals that opened in 2019 or 2020 to create a similar payment system.

“They’ve got all the money,” Lundquist said.

While virtually all aid is bid for funding, Lundquist said hospitals seeking additional aid could go through an appeals process. He said hospitals may also seek supplementary appropriation or funding in the coming financial years. All three hospitals say they deserve more.

Thomasville officials are trying to take advantage of Congressional influence. Mayor Sheldon Day has made several trips to Washington, D.C. to speak with members of the state’s congressional delegation and health officials, and Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson has asked the White House for help.

“They have been assured that they will be taken care of. But the fact is that when you are dealing with government entities, you don’t have money until you have money,” Williamson said.

Located in southwest Alabama, Thomasville lies within a poor region called the Black Belt. About 70% of black belt residents qualify for Medicare or Medicaid, and health care has been limited over generations.

The last hospital in Thomasville closed more than a decade ago, leaving only hospitals that offer fewer services to the surrounding area. Authorities worked for years to secure a new hospital so residents don’t have to drive 90 minutes to get high-tech services like digital imaging, full surgical options, echocardiograms, 3D mammography and more.

Using a partnership between the city and a municipal health care authority, Thomasville Regional received federal funding from the Department of Agriculture and opened on March 3, 2020, before cases of COVID-19 in the rural South caught fire.

“We thought we were off to a good start,” Chief Executive Officer James said. “And then everything stopped.”

Patients stopped showing up for scans, elective surgeries, mammography and other money-making services as the pandemic closed, and financial reports that looked promising turned alarming within weeks.

Recognizing that new hospitals cannot calculate COVID-19 losses because they cannot compare 2020 numbers with previous years, Health and Human Services has asked hospitals to use budget numbers for calculations instead of prior financial statements. permitted to. That’s how the hospital determined it was missing out on more than $7 million in aid, James said.

While the hospital is still waiting for that aid, he said, the government had agreed to provide $1 million in aid to all other hospitals.

“It was fine, but other hospitals in our area got $8 million, $9 million,” he said.

The Birmingham-based Medical Property Trust recently gave $2 million to the hospital, and James said leaders are confident Thomasville Regional will eventually receive additional federal aid. “But it will take time,” he said.

Like Thomasville Regional, Rock Regional in Kansas saw a decrease in revenue shortly after opening, CEO Buys said. It is still facing staff shortage due to the pandemic and has to pay a premium for traveling nurses to work in the wards, he said, working with all counselors and members of Congress on the bus. Trying to stay away.

“It’s been a little disappointing,” he said.

The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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