Page 29 - BusinessWest July 20, 2020
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adding that many furloughed employees took advantage of the $600 federal boost in unemploy- ment and wound up bringing in more than they did while working.
“That helped reduce expenses significantly,” he added, noting that almost 170 of 250 fur- loughed employees were back at the start of
July, with another 80 to 90 expecting to return at month’s end. “Then MassHealth stepped in and allocated $11.8 million over four months to cover some of the losses, and we got a one-time pay- ment from the feds of about $3 million. Add it all up, and through May, our losses were roughly $3 million — not insignificant, but we were able to survive it.”
Dollars and Sense
Baystate is surviving, too, Keroack said, emphasizing the importance the health system has not only on its 12,000 employees, but on the region, where it has an annual economic impact of some $4.2 billion.
When the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, he expects Baystate to have lost about $160 million in revenues due to volume losses, but the system was able to secure about $75 million in federal relief and another $23 million state aid.
“The rest of that will likely be covered by reserves,” he added, noting that Baystate is fortu- nate to have both reserve funds and a broad ser- vice model.
“The smaller hospitals that have cash-flow problems got hit very hard because they didn’t have much in the way of reserves, but the other group is bigger hospitals that are highly special- ized, like Mass General, where their revenues real- ly depend on that elective surgical volume. Hospi-
tals that are jacks of all trades and have good size, like Baystate, were hit less hard. Not to say it was pleasant what we’ve been through.”
Calling a $160 million revenue loss a ‘less hard’ hit may speak in some ways to the financial clout of the healthcare industry as a whole; it’s certainly one of the Commonwealth’s key economic driv- ers. And as patient volume continues to ramp back up, hospitals will be on safer ground when it comes to budgeting.
patients per day, which is still about 20% below the organization’s typical ED volume.
“We are seeing people with chronic illness who have waited too long to seek medical atten- tion and are sick,” Emergency Department Nurse Director Sara McKeown said. “We have also seen an uptick in people seeking mental healthcare; patients presenting with substance-use issues and trauma are also increasing.”
“At Baystate Medical Center, we’re at 80% to 90% capac-
ity, so I would say people are mostly back.” Keroack said, noting that, while patients
are returning gradually for routine care and procedures, current volume is still affected by social-distancing and sani- tization measures that have slowed the pace of treatment. “In the community hospitals, they’re a bit further behind — more like 60% of former volume.
“We’re now planning for a fiscal-year 2021 budget and considering a number of measures to mitigate some of this — things like hiring freezes and reducing a lot of discretionary expenses. Everywhere we can hold off on spending, we have.
     “In the long run, the question is, will volumes be permanently depressed?” he went on. “We’ve tried to convince people you really don’t want to put off stuff you know is worthwhile — you don’t want to ignore symptoms that might be serious. We have seen a number of people lately whose illness is much more serious than it would have been in pre-COVID days.”
Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s Emergency Department has seen a 100% increase from its COVID lows, during the height of the pandemic locally, when it was handling 35 to 45 patients per day. Now, ED providers are seeing 70 to 80
Patient volume is bouncing back at Holyoke Medical Center and its community-based prac- tices, but ED visits still lag, Hatiras said. “Anec- dotally, we’ve heard of people putting off heart conditions and other things, and that can lead to bad outcomes. People shouldn’t stay home with serious conditions.”
That said, “I don’t blame the government for being overly cautious with closing down elective surgeries,” he added, noting that the elimination of many procedures over the past two months was, more than anything else, about preserv- ing beds to treat
an unpredictable
Continued on page 30
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George O’Brien
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