Pennsylvania hospitals anticipate a surge in COVID-19 patients and are turning to the state government to provide emergency funding as quickly as it can.
It might prevent hospitals from shutting down, said Andy Carter, president and CEO, Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP).
“There is a legitimate credible threat that some hospitals without financial support from either the federal government or the state government will close,” Carter said during a media call Tuesday. HAP is a membership organization that advocates for hospitals and health systems.
Carter didn’t give a specific figure desired but implied that hundreds of millions are sought. He referred to Washington, a state with 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s population and a far advanced population of coronavirus patients, which approved a $200 million fund last week. Dispersal methods and other details need to be worked out, he said.
The money could be used for supplies, employee overtime, emergency hires and child care for health care workers, Carter said. He estimated the cumulative supply of face masks at Pennsylvania hospitals could be exhausted in three weeks.
State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, learned of the fund’s proposal and supports the initiative.
“The state Senate is taking action this week to provide up to $50 million of additional funding for COVID-19 response efforts within the Commonwealth’s health care system. Funding will be used to buy medical equipment and supplies for healthcare entities to meet urgent patient and staff needs to address surge in demand,” Yaw said.
Cases of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel coronavirus, doubles every two to three days in Pennsylvania and across the United States.
There were 851 cases in Pennsylvania among 44,183 nationally as of Tuesday afternoon. Compare that to one week prior: 96 in Pennsylvania, 7,038 nationwide.
Should that rate of growth sustain, Pennsylvania will surpass 6,000 cases by the same time next week. The United States would near 350,000 cases.
“As long as we’re seeing that, the virus is spreading in many communities and it remains a public health crisis,” Dr. Rachel Levine, Health Department secretary, said of exponential growth during Tuesday’s daily press briefing.
Levine implored Pennsylvanians to maintain good hygiene by frequently washing hands and disinfecting oft-used surfaces. People should stay home, if possible, especially those with mild symptoms like fever, dry cough and troubled breathing.
Many hospitals moved to postpone elective surgeries, an important revenue stream. Carter referred to one hospital that counts elective procedures as 80 percent of its revenue.
Kendra Aucker, president and CEO of Evangelical Community Hospital, Lewisburg, said such procedures account for 30 percent of net revenue. The hospital announced the delay of elective surgeries last week while also furloughing about 400 non-medical employees, roughly 20 percent of Evangelical’s entire staff.
“When you shut down a hospital to the degree we’ve been shut down, you’re gong to need relief,” Aucker said.
Carter said he presented the idea of a “healthcare coronavirus emergency response fund” to Legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf.
State Rep. David Rowe, R-85, said he wasn’t yet aware of the proposal but is very aware of a potential supply shortage should the coronavirus crisis worsen in Central Pennsylvania.
“It is for this reason that I am advocating loudly for the businesses that play a vital role in the supply chains to be able to return to work. Many of the private entities that play a critical role in supporting the manufacturers of these life-saving supplies have been hamstrung by the governor’s sweeping mandate and the subsequent lack of clarification or communication on the part of the administration,” Rowe said, referring to Wolf’s mandate that “nonessential” businesses close indefinitely.