Affect of Hospitals’ Covid Aid Funds Assessed

Federal relief money to hospitals during the earlier stages of the pandemic bolstered the finances of most hospitals. But four studies found that the temporary federal funding may have made many rural hospitals appear more financially stable than they really are.

Modern Healthcare: COVID-19 Relief Stabilized Hospital Finances In 2020, Study Finds

Federal relief buoyed hospital finances during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic even though hospital operations took a hit, according to a study published in JAMA Health Forum Friday. The pandemic created unforeseen challenges for the healthcare system, including hospitals canceling elective procedures and patients postponing care. At the same time, costs rose. While the average operating margin suffered in 2020, the average profit margin was similar to previous years, Johns Hopkins University researchers found. (Berryman, 5/16)

North Carolina Health News: COVID-19 Funds May Mask Rural Hospitals’ True Outlook

Between the start of the pandemic and February 2021, rural hospitals nationwide received nearly $15 billion in federal relief dollars, according to researchers at UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. But while the money helped slow the pace of rural hospital closures and enabled these facilities to care for critically ill patients during COVID-19 surges, it did little to address the financial crises them before the pandemic. The temporary federal funding may in fact make many rural hospitals appear more financially stable than they really are, according to four different analyzes of rural hospital finance data. (Donnelly-DeRoven, 5/17)

AP: New US Hospitals Face Fiscal Crisis Over COVID Relief Money

A whole town celebrated in 2020 when, early in the coronavirus pandemic, Thomasville Regional Medical Center opened, offering state-of-the-art medicine that was previously unavailable in a poor, isolated part of Alabama. The timing for the ribbon-cutting seemed perfect: New treatment options would be available in an underserved area just as a global health crisis was unfolding. In the end, that same timing may be the reason for the hospital’s undoing. (Reeves, 5/17)

In related news —

Modern Healthcare: Rates Of Unnecessary Procedures Persisted Through Pandemic, Study Shows

Despite the risks posed by COVID-19, hospitals continued to perform eight common, low-value procedures during the first year of the pandemic at a rate similar to 2019, according to a Lown Institute analysis published Tuesday. Between March and December 2020, hospitals performed more than 100,000 procedures on older patients that have been deemed patients overused, according to an analysis of Medicare claims data from 2018 through 2020. These services, which are thought to offer little to no clinical benefit for and present additional risks, include hysterectomies for benign disease, coronary stents for stable heart disease and spinal fusions for lower-back pain. (Devereaux, 5/17)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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