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Photo: Xavierarnau/Getty Images

At an American Hospital Association virtual policy briefing last week, hospital and health system leaders told congressional staff about the continued challenges their organizations are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and why additional support from Congress is necessary.

LaRay Brown, president and CEO of One Brooklyn Health System, Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York; Craig Cordola, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ascension, a multi-state health system serving 151 communities; and Dr. Lori Morgan, CEO of Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California, discussed challenges, including workforce shortages and staff burnout; the loss of revenue due to the complexity of care and suspension of regular services; and increased costs for labor, equipment and supplies.

“The hospital and healthcare system crisis is real,” said Morgan. “As a group, hospitals large and small stood up for their communities when no one else was able to do so. But help is needed.” 

She urged Congress to provide additional support to “stabilize hospitals and guarantee that we will be able to step forward and provide the care needed in our communities.”

Among other actions, the leaders urged Congress to quickly disperse remaining funding from the Provider Relief Fund and add $25 billion; extend Medicare sequester relief; give hospitals more time to repay accelerated and advance Medicare payments; and provide relief to certain 340B hospitals so they can remain eligible for the program.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

Cordola, of Ascension, talked about staff shortages that have made it difficult to engage in patient care during the worst phases of the COVD-19 pandemic, which he said has weighed heavily on the minds of existing staff.

The system has moved staff across state lines at times, and used its size to ensure a steady influx of needed supplies, such as personal protective equipment. Despite all that, Ascension has had a rough January, with the health system suffering tough financial losses during the month, Cordola said.

He added that Ascension used to spend $100 million per year on contract labor. The system now spends that each month.

The Delta and Omicron variants have greatly increased costs, he said, which have “placed unprecedented strain on our caregivers.”

Morgan, a trauma surgeon, said the complex, changing and ceaseless demands of the pandemic has placed Huntington into a position of crisis management. 

“The care our staff has provided has been physically, mentally and emotionally taxing,” she said. “It has been an unending marathon of illness and death that none of our caregivers have previously experienced.

“They are exhausted, and they are burned out,” she said, noting that many have left the profession or retired early.

This is the second time in recent weeks that the AHA has implored Congress to release PRF funds. The organization sent a letter to Congress in January to that effect, saying that “no distributions from the PRF have been made or announced for expenses related to the delta or omicron variant surges, despite steep increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

“The lack of PRF dollars to address issues wrought by the delta and omicron surges has left many hospitals facing overwhelming financial and operational challenges,” the letter read.

THE LARGER TREND

At the outset of the pandemic, Congress established a Provider Relief Fund to help healthcare providers mitigate their financial losses.

Provider relief funds of $178 billion have been allocated to all providers and an additional $8.5 billion has been targeted for rural providers. The funds were disbursed through several tranches and targeted payments with strict guardrails as to how and in what timeframe they could be used.

In May 2021, AHA urged the Department of Health and Human Services to distribute remaining provider relief funds.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: [email protected]



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