Morgan was one of three executives who spoke on a Thursday call hosted by the Chicago-based American Hospital Association to detail how they’re coping with surging costs for workers and supplies that are making losses worse than expected. They pleaded for additional federal funding, and for delays in implementing a scheduled 2% cut in Medicare reimbursements and a pause in Medicare money advanced earlier in the pandemic that’s starting to be recouped. The AHA has requested an additional $25 billion and disbursement of the remaining money previously allotted.
Finances at One Brooklyn Health, which includes three hospitals and treats some of the poorest in the city, were never stable and are now in crisis, Chief Executive Officer LaRay Brown said. Staffing in the system was down 10% early in the omicron wave causing the suspension of non-emergency procedures and a vaccination program, and forcing the hospital, like so many, to hire contract staff.
“We have less than a handful of days of cash on hand,” Brown said.
Ascension, a Catholic non-profit system that includes 142 hospitals, used to spend $100 million a year on contract labor, said Craig Cordola, its chief operating officer. Now it spends that per month. Staffing shortages prompted the closing of more than 500 beds across Ascension’s system, Cordola said, though as a large system it can at least move staff around.
Brown said her hospital has paid rates as high as $215 an hour for traveling emergency-room nurses, while Morgan said her hospital is paying rates for travel nurses 84% higher than in 2019.
Premiums for travel nurses “are crippling hospital finances,” Morgan said. “There is now a looming disaster.”
The pandemic is only adding to pre-existing pressures, Cordola said, including an aging population that is more expensive to treat. Now, workers are seeing a stream of sicker patients who must stay longer after postponing care earlier in the pandemic, Morgan said.
More than 82% of the beds in her system were occupied by Covid patients at the beginning of this year, Brown said. “Costs have gone up, revenues have gone down, and we already were at minus-zero margin.”
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