New Jersey’s hospitals took a $1.7 billion financial hit during the COVID-19 pandemic as it ravaged the state and suspended the economy, according to a Monday report from the New Jersey Hospital Association.
That includes $650 million in lost revenue for both March and April – 32 percent each month – mainly due to the two-month pause on elective surgeries. And, the state’s hospitals also shelled out $214 million in both March and April to shore up their response to the virus.
“COVID-19 is an unprecedented event for our health care system, and our hospitals have directed all of their resources at it,” Cathy Bennett, NJHA president and chief executive officer, said in a Monday statement. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t come without risk to hospitals’ own fiscal health.”
The NJHA’s report relied on surveys 30 of the state’s 71 acute care hospitals filled out and returned to the association, with a 42 percent response rate, between April 20 and May 1.
New Jersey has been hit by close to 150,000 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in earnest in mid-March. Slowly, the pandemic has moved to South Jersey. And for weeks now, the rates of new cases, hospitalizations and fatalities have dropped from their mid-April peak.
But patient volume has cratered with the loss of elective procedures, which make up the lion’s share of hospital revenue.
Those are slated to resume on May 26, but only for the most at-need patients first, and with a variety of restrictions meant to keep down any risk of exposure to the virus.
“It remains unclear how quickly and comprehensively these services will return to hospitals,” the report adds.
Marc Levine, president of the New Jersey Medical Society, warned that the health care system could undergo growing pains as it reopens for elective procedures.
“We’re going to find that there are going to be problems that have arisen in non-COVID-19 patients who have delayed care or put off care,” Levine told lawmakers at a special remotely-held “Senate Fiscal Recovery Strategies” committee meeting on Monday.
“Our patients, unfortunately, may be affected by practices shutting down and not coming back.”
Hospitals have spent more on increased staffing and patient capacity, and to add to the availability of personal protective equipment, ventilators and drugs, according to the report.
But hospitals say they’ve seen steep drops in their bread and butter services: non-COVID inpatient discharges, outpatient visits and procedures, and diagnostic tests, such as radiology or laboratory work.
“No doubt about it, this crisis has taken a huge financial toll,” Hackensack Meridian Health Chief Executive Officer Robert Garrett told lawmakers on Monday.
“The public was also, during the crisis, reluctant to even come in for medically necessary and time-sensitive” care, he added.
A surge in telemedicine, Garrett said, could make up for some of that. Many patients opted to stay clear of hospitals and doctors’ offices, and may continue that practice for the foreseeable future.
And the push to produce medical equipment and new treatments for COVID-19 could be an economic boom for the state, assured Barry Ostrowky, the chief executive officer of RWJBarnabas Health
“It’s not a solution, it’s an option,” Levine maintained. “There’s nothing that will ever take the place of a mom taking their child to the pediatrician to feel the lymph nodes by their ears, or press on their belly, check for a mass.”