Is The Pandemic Creating Access To Care And Outcome Challenges?

F.J. Thomas

Sarasota, FL ( – According to the most recent report from The Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, 17 rural hospitals have closed since the first of the year. An additional three smaller hospitals not included in the Sheps list have closed since the start of the pandemic, rounding out that total to 20.

Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, formerly located in Ashland, Kentucky closed on April 30th. On July 26th, First Texas Hospital Cy-Fair out of Houston closed unexpectedly. Fairmont Regional, based in Irvine, Cal., but located in West Virginia closed its doors on March 19th of this year.

According to a report from Becker’s Healthcare, a total of 32 hospitals have also filed for bankruptcy in addition to the 20 hospitals that have already closed.

While mismanagement and fraud have been the root cause for closure of hospitals in some cases earlier on, the more recent financial threats to hospitals have included increased costs pared with lower reimbursement due to payer changes, and dwindling patient loads. In light of the pandemic, the hurdles of cost, reimbursement, and business have expanded even more with cancelled elective surgeries and the cost for personal protective equipment.

To add insult to injury, CMS has proposed cuts for 2021 that amount to as much as 5 percent to 12 percent. Many of those reimbursement cuts are for procedures such as spinal surgeries, for which outcomes are heavily reliant on access to care and timing.

With the recent resurgence of COVID-19 in the midst of political upheaval, the question some are asking is how will healthcare facilities navigate such an ever-changing landscape to keep the doors open while still treating patients, and ultimately how will these changes impact patient outcomes?

With so many hospitals and facilities closing or limiting their operations due to cash flow, the bottom line is there are fewer places to perform surgeries and provide aftercare treatment when needed, thus creating issues with access to care.

For instance, according to data from Husch Blackwell, Colorado will adopt the First Amended Public Health Order 20-36 COVID 19 Dial which stipulates that healthcare businesses “operate at 50% of the posted occupancy limit, not to exceed 50 people”.

In another report from Becker’s, at least 47 hospitals are postponing or cancelling elective surgeries in light of the increase of COVID-19. Some hospitals are imposing a cap on the number of cases performed in day as a way to maintain business but not overload their inpatient capacity.

Aside from just maintaining a full healthy workforce capable of treating patients, the healthcare industry has been tasked with figuring out how to stay in business while maintaining integrity of care for the best outcomes. In light of such a task, the challenges ahead will require all sectors of healthcare to work together if the industry is going to be successful and survive the coming year.

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