VENICE — Hospitals aren’t immune to the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramping up to deal with an influx of patients who need to be in isolation and may need specialized equipment is expensive. So are bulk purchases of personal protective equipment, which more people are using more of.
At the same time, other potential patients are being urged to avoid going to the hospital as a precaution against contracting the virus, and all elective surgeries have been put on hold.
With medical care being the most essential of services, hospitals don’t have the option of shutting down until the risk of infection drops.
And the worst is yet to come, with the peak demand for hospital beds in Florida projected to be April 21 — about two weeks earlier than the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation had estimated last week.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital reported last week that it lost $16 million in March, and that was despite high volumes for the first two weeks of the month.
Overall, a news release stated, the system saw a drop of more than 50% in surgery cases, 30% in hospital inpatients, 45% in its two emergency care centers and 66% at its seven urgent care centers.
As a result, cost-cutting measures were announced that include “temporary furloughs and reduced hours for some employees,” according to the news release.
There’s also a hiring freeze for all but “mission-critical positions,” and senior leaders have taken a pay cut.
Other cost cutting measures include temporarily suspending any patient services and projects that are not critical at this time as well as pay cuts for senior leaders.
Furloughed staff will retain their jobs, for recall as needed or when the hospital resumes normal operations. The cost of their benefits will be covered for at least 90 days, according to the news release.
“Flexed” employees will have their hours reduced to match the hospital’s staffing needs. Both furloughed and flexed employees who accrue paid time off will be able to tap up to 80 additional, unaccrued hours for extra financial support.
If they’re not recalled before their PTO runs out, they’ll need to file for unemployment.
“This was an extremely difficult decision, and one that we did not make lightly,” CEO David Verinder said in a letter announcing the moves to the employees. “As the health care safety net for the region, we must do all we can to continue fulfilling that critical role in the weeks ahead and for the long-term.”
“Once the pandemic abates, I am hopeful that we will bounce back quickly,” he said, believing the hospital’s “reputation, resilience and strength” in support of the community and its own team will assist.
HCA Healthcare, which owns both Doctors Hospital of Sarasota and Englewood Community Hospital, also announced some job protection and cost-cutting steps.
Under its “pandemic pay continuation” policy, the company will attempt to redeploy staff whose hours have been reduced and will pay those it can’t 70 percent of their base pay for up to seven weeks “until HCA Healthcare better understands the long-term implications of this pandemic on the organization,” it said in a news release.
Patient-care staff who are quarantined will receive 100% of their base pay regardless of where they were exposed. Other staff who are quarantined will be eligible for short-term disability.
The company is also providing scrub laundering for staff and is trying to arrange free housing at hotels for those who would prefer not to go home after a shift.
It’s also offering child and elder care, free telemedicine, HCA Hope Fund grants for financial needs along with emotional support and counseling services.
Senior leadership is taking a 30 percent cut and CEO Sam Hazen is donating 100 percent of his paycheck for eight weeks to the HCA Hope Fund, with other senior leaders also to make significant contributions. HCA Healthcare’s board members have waived their cash compensation for the remainder of the year, with the money to go to the HCA Hope Fund.
“This pandemic is unique, and our caregivers’ concerns are real,” said Dr, Ravi Chari, president of HCA Healthcare West Florida. “We want them to know that we care like family, and we stand with them.
“We appreciate all that our caregivers do each day and we thank them for making a difference, by providing compassionate care to those we are privileged to serve.”
Venice Regional Bayfront Health didn’t offer specifics on its staffing maneuvers.
“We are carefully managing staffing, flexing schedules and reassigning personnel to other areas of the hospital so we have the resources to maintain operations should the projected surge in COVID-19 patients occur,” it said in a news release.