By Duncan Smith

Most people wouldn’t have thought that during the coronavirus pandemic, most of our country’s hospitals would remain three-quarters empty and be losing hundreds of billions of dollars.

But they are, and oddly enough, the bleeding of money is a direct result of underuse during the pandemic.

Like most state and local leaders, hospital administrators believed the initial faulty “coronavirus models” that claimed the next Black Plague was upon us and we’d never every spare hospital bed we could find, and then some. So they emptied their wards and halted all elective and special procedures, where hospitals make their money, and now they are laying off staff and staring at closures which will have a long-term devastating effect on our healthcare infrastructure, say experts.

NBC News provides the latest details:

Hospitals in the United States could lose more than $500 billion in 100 days during the coronavirus pandemic, according to former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. While Congress has appropriated $175 billion in total stimulus funding to hospitals, he said even that amount will not be enough to close the fiscal gap hospitals are facing.

Without proper funding to offset major financial losses during the pandemic, the consequences to major hospitals could be dire. Large hospitals could begin to see their capabilities and care resources fade, warned Shulkin and others who have served at the helm of major hospitals.

It could also require hospitals to prioritize some departments and teams, such as oncology and critical care teams, over others considered less essential. Large clinics, known for developing cutting-edge care could see reduction in the scope of their research, particularly for research unrelated to the coronavirus.

Hospitals have begun laying off or furloughing scores of workers, or cutting their pay, just to stay open. And let’s recall, most of these people are highly educated, highly trained, and highly skilled…certainly not a national asset that is quickly replaced once gone.

“There is no hospital in the country, I don’t think, that could survive a year of what’s happened in March and April,” Jefferson Health CEO Dr. Stephen Klasko, who also serves as president of Thomas Jefferson University, told NBC News.

“The consequences to the health care system are literally apocalyptic,” Klasko said. “In Pennsylvania alone, there will be $9 billion worth of losses, and maybe 30 percent of that will come back.”

“You rely upon your highly profitable surgical cases that are with insured patients, especially commercially insured, and this is the exact kind of thing we’ve seen in this crisis. The biggest hit has been to those profitable services,” Shulkin said.

It gets worse, the network noted:

Approximately 97 percent of health systems are losing $2,800 per coronavirus patient, with many losing between $8,000 and $10,000, according to a study commissioned and performed by Strata Decision Technologies — a software firm focused on financial forecasting for hospitals and health care systems — in late March using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as from Italy and China.

There is some good news: States are beginning to reopen and as they do, hospitals are now beginning to schedule these procedures. Will it be enough to save them, though?

Time will tell, but getting our hospitals and their staffs back up to 100 percent is not just a good idea, it ought to be a national priority.

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