By Tank Murdoch @TheNatSent
(TNS) A few weeks ago, we published a story about the then-trending hashtag #EmptyHospitals, in an effort to point out the irony that many, if not most, healthcare centers were barely occupied during a pandemic we were told was a planet-killer.
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One of the mediaâ€™s narratives has been to portray the virus as so deadly serious that there would no way with our countryâ€™s current hospital capacity weâ€™d be able to deal with the vast number of coronavirus patients.
Now, to be fair, there are parts of the country where hospitals are certainly being challenged, no question about it.
But strangely, in places like California where the first coronavirus cases surfaced, there is no real strain being put on hospitals and healthcare systems.
In fact, the hashtag #EmptyHospitals is now beginning to trend on social media.
Americans who may have been concerned or motivated by stories of perpetually crammed emergency rooms and orders for 100,000 body bags began driving around to check the status of their local hospitals. And what theyâ€™re finding certainly does not match all of the breathless reporting.
That is still the case. There simply isÂ not the massive patient load streaming into and overwhelming hospitals.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Hospitals all over the country are so empty and so devoid of the kind of traffic — outpatient surgeries, mostly — that keeps them afloat, they are actually laying off workers andÂ closing.
Who would have thought that during aÂ pandemic our healthcare system would collapse fromÂ under-use? But that’s exactly what’s happening.
NPR reported last week that small hospitals vital to serving rural patients are being hit the hardest:
By this time next week, Decatur County, Tenn., will have lost its only hospital, Decatur County General, which has been serving the rural community of about 12,000 people along the Tennessee River since 1963.
The hospital’s human resources director, Melinda Hays-Kirkwood, has already begun laying off people, and she says by next week only a skeleton staff will remain.
“It’s hard on these employees that have been here a long time. I’ve got people who have been here for 30 years,” Hays-Kirkwood says. “For some people, this has been their only job out of college.”
Healthcare Finance notes further that 25 percent of rural hospitals face this dilemma:
A full quarter of rural hospitals in the U.S. are at a high risk of closing unless their financial situations improve, according to an annualÂ Guidehouse analysisÂ of publicly available data. The data examined by Guidehouse â€“ formerly Navigant â€“ was collected prior to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, meaning the situation is likely to get worse.
The 354 at-risk rural hospitals span 40 states and represent more than 222,350 annual discharges, 51,800 employees and $8.3 billion in total patient revenue, the analysis found.
Of these hospitals, 287, or 81%, are considered highly essential to the health and economic well-being of their communities. Thirty-four states have at least half of their financially distressed rural hospitals considered highly essential, with 16 states having all hospitals in this situation.
Mind you, many employees of these facilities are highly-trained, highly-skilled healthcare workers. And they’re being furloughed, some possibly for good.
This is another unintended phenomenon of radical state-and-city-ordered shutdowns. Not only are hospitals half-to-three-quarters empty and laying off staff, those furloughed workers will have difficulty finding new jobs because in many cases they are forbidden to look because they must stay at home for all but the most ‘essential’ of reasons.
Plus, there are fewer jobs to be had anyway, since the shutdown orders include mandatory closures of “non-essential” businesses.
This comes as the nation’s food supply is also being disrupted and in a major way — again, a negative side effect of the shutdown orders. Farmers are having to throw away food or let it rot in the fields because the restaurant, service industry, and school markets are all shuttered.
President Donald Trump’s ‘economy task force’ — which will make recommendations about reopening our economy — begins its work on Tuesday, and it’s not a moment too soon. But like the ‘self-isolation’ guidelines the president issued last month, the economy task force can only make suggestions about reopening economies.
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Decisions to actually do so will have to be made by governors and mayors.
If they can do so safely — and most can — they had better get cracking or huge swaths of our medical and agricultural infrastructure will be wiped away, the result of overreacting to a pandemic that was overhyped and oversold by bad computer models and a mainstream media itching to see Trump’s America fail.
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