Fifty-three of New Jersey’s hospitals will receive a combined $1.7 billion this week from a federal COVID-19 relief package to cover the costs of their response efforts, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on May 2, as the state moves further from its mid-April peak of hospitalizations and begins to get a handle on the outbreak.
The funds are meant to help make up for the massive financial hits hospitals have taken as they pay for the treatment of thousands of COVID-19 patients.
All told, the nation’s 395 hospitals hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic – of which 53 are in New Jersey – will see a combined $12 billion from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, Act.
“Many of our hospitals have taken a financial hit,” Murphy said Saturday at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton.
Under the CARES Act, New Jersey has received $3.3 billion in state aid, and this latest tranche of funding represents more than half that amount. The hospitals will see the money deposited into their accounts this week, according to Murphy.
“This is consistent with our effort to ensure that Americans who need federal government assistance the most receive it,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a May 1 briefing.
The aid means those hospitals would not rely on the state government to make up for lost dollars, taking the pressure off an already-cash strapped state, which has seen its tax revenues plummet across the board.
“Getting more critical financial aid to our hospitals and health systems to support our front-line health care workers has been a constant and central part of our ongoing dialogue with our federal partners,” Murphy added.
Responses to the outbreak by Murphy and other governors entailed placing their respective states on near-total lockdown and closing businesses en masse.
The move has shown many signs of working, but in the process has ground commerce to a halt—driving up unemployment and blowing a hole in the New Jersey’s budget that could total $30 billion by the end of June 2020.
That means steep losses in the taxes on which the state relies: corporation, income, sales, gas, casino and lottery sales, as well as fares and tolls.
Tight federal restrictions as to how the aid could be used – mainly just for state’s COVID-19 responses – leave states such as New Jersey unable to use those funds to plug holes in their budgets.
U.S. President Donald Trump has resisted calls for federal aid to states, calling the prospect a “tough question.”
The president has insisted that states cannot use federal aid for “legacy” issues such as pension obligations. New Jersey’s public worker retirement system is considered one of the worst in the country.
“This is to allow us to keep firefighters, teachers and EMS on payroll, serving communities in their hour of need,” Murphy said. “We don’t see this as a bailout, we see this as a partnership.”
As of May 2, the state’s hospitals in North and Central Jersey have transitioned from “crisis” mode to “standard care,” because of the continual drop in hospitalizations, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
“Crisis standards of care are situations where clinicians practice in extreme circumstances, with scarce resources, like staffing, personal protective equipment, and ventilators,” Persichilli said on Saturday. “As hospitals decrease and intensive care beds and medical-surgical halve capacity, our hospitals are returning to standard procedures.”
The statewide peak was April 14, when 8,293 COVID-19 patients were at the state’s 71 hospitals, the health commissioner said. As of May 2 at 10 p.m., there were 5,317 COVID-19 patients. That spelled a drop of 1,000 patients in the past week, Murphy said, who indicated that “all of the important metrics in our hospitals continue to show positive trends.”
Even still, the number of hospitalizations in South Jersey has steadily risen since early April.
As of Sunday afternoon, the state saw at least 126,755 COVID-19 cases and 7,871 deaths. And as of Friday at 10 p.m. saw the lowest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations – 378 new patients – and the highest ever discharge of 525 patients.