Second Covid-19 wave could turn cracks in the hospital system into ‘earthquakes’
Taken from NBC News
By Lauren Dunn
September 26, 2020
When Dr. Shereef Elnahal walked through his New Jersey hospital in April, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
There were 300 patients being treated for Covid-19, filling hospital rooms and spilling out into the halls of the emergency room. The trauma center, once used for gunshot wounds and car crash victims, was now filled with people on ventilators.
“It was really like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital in Newark.
“I have memories of walking around and I would look inside the rooms where that was possible. Almost every person was a person of color,” he told NBC News.
Elnahal’s hospital is one of the more than 100 major medical centers that treat America’s most vulnerable patients: communities of color who have been disproportionately harmed by Covid-19. Data has increasingly shown that Black and Hispanic patients are more likely to be hospitalized with the virus and, in many cases, more likely to die from it.
“We’re learning more and more that it’s these vulnerable communities being hit harder by the pandemic,” said Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy for America’s Essential Hospitals, a group representing the more than 300 hospitals that treat uninsured patients. “Our hospitals are absolutely serving those hardest-hit communities.”
A second surge of Covid-19 this fall and winter could be catastrophic for the U.S., and it’s not just more sick people that doctors worry about. The very hospitals that treat lower-income patients could be forced to shut down or cut crucial services.
“We would absolutely be at risk of closing,” Elnahal said. “It would be a public health disaster for this community.”
The pandemic hit all U.S. hospitals with a financial “triple whammy,” said Aaron Wesolowski, the American Hospital Association’s vice president for policy research, analytics and strategy. Costs increased dramatically, while revenues plummeted.
The hospitals were forced to cover the exorbitant costs of buying extra personal protective equipment like N95 masks, as well as convert wards to treat Covid-19 patients and more uninsured patients. At the same time, they had to stop performing revenue-generating procedures like elective surgeries.
By the end of 2020, hospitals across the U.S. will lose about $300 billion, according to the American Hospital Association. But for major medical centers like University Hospital in Newark, the financial hit of a second wave of Covid-19 would be especially devastating.