Suspended elective surgeries causing financial strain on health care system

Hospitals, smaller surgical outlets discuss budget
Suspended elective surgeries causing financial strain on health care system
Posted at 12:12 AM, Apr 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 11:35:34-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — On March 19, Governor Jared Polis released an executive order suspending voluntary or elective surgeries from March 23 to April 14, then extended that order to April 26. Postponing those kinds of surgeries has put a financial strain on hospitals and smaller surgical outlets in Colorado Springs.

News5 spoke with the President of the Board of Managers of Audubon Surgery Center, Dr. Michael Simpson, who said while other physicians are very busy at this time, his workload has decreased. Audubon is a multi-specialty ambulatory surgery center, where they perform a wide variety of outpatient procedures. Dr. Simpson explained that elective surgeries can be scheduled at any point without detriment to the patient's medical condition. He also said that some kinds of surgery, described as "semi-urgent," can still be done because they cannot safely be delayed. "Really, as the American College of Surgeons and everybody thinks, the physician is ultimately the one who understands that patient's scenario and whether that patient really can safely be delayed," said Dr. Simpson.

Dr. Simpson said the loss of elective surgeries has definitely affected their budget. "Our business is down 85-87%. It really just depends how many weeks or months this all continues, and when we are able to kind of get back up to normal business as usual," said Dr. Simpson.

Audubon is still trying to do business however they can, while also being a resource for the community and health care system. "We knew that this would impact us dramatically, but we wanted to protect our valuable employees. We wanted to remain a partner with the healthcare systems. We inventoried our Personal Protective Equipment. We inventoried our ventilators, we let the other hospitals know, at Penrose-St. Francis know how many ventilators we had available so that they can keep track, because none of us knew what was going to happen with the whole COVID thing," said Dr. Simpson.

Audubon wants to maintain their staff to make sure when all of this is over, they are there to perform those elective surgeries. They are trying to continue paying their clinical, office, and nursing staff at a percentage of their prior salary, no matter what happens.

Dr. Simpson said they are sympathetic to the fact that many hospitals may be going through financial strain as well. "A lot of hospitals do rely on those surgical specialties to bring revenue within the system, so that that revenue can be shared as a resource to provide care for others and for those indigent patients," said Dr. Simpson.

News5 also talked to the Chief Clinical Officer for Centura Health, Dr. Shauna Gulley. Dr. Gulley said it is difficult to give exact numbers on how much money elective surgeries contribute to their budget, but that they are an important source of revenue. "Many people, individuals with small businesses, physicians, physician practices, hospitals, and health systems alike are in this together. We're all experiencing financial strain during this COVID-19 pandemic, and we're really preparing ourselves for the future. What does it look like as we move forward through this pandemic, and how do we best serve our communities in this new state?" said Dr. Gulley.

Dr. Gulley said their ministry has been around for over 100 years, and she has no doubt they can weather this storm. "Almost all parts of health care are at least somewhat revenue generating or break-even, so there are many different areas that we can lean on and adapt and move towards for revenue generation, if one area or another is impaired for a reason like this," said Dr. Gulley.

Dr. Gulley also said right now, Centura Health is moving toward telemedicine. "There are certain parts of our business where we are not using as many hours as typical, but there are other parts that do require some overtime, and it's in areas that you might think about. IT, for telemedicine support, some areas of nursing, like the emergency department or ICU's, where we really need more staff to help with this coronavirus patients," said Dr. Gulley.

Some employees, however, have found themselves working less than normal. "We have offered PTO as an option for those people who are not actively working in our facilities. We are not doing anything like furloughs, or laying people off at this time," said Dr. Gulley.

While Centura Health is doing a lot of emergency services care, Dr. Gulley said the volumes in their emergency departments are actually down right now. "I think a lot of people in the community imagine that EDs would be overflowing, and that's just not the case. When you go into one of our emergency departments, including at Penrose-St. Francis, it is really calm and in control, and our numbers are down as compared to typical times," said Dr. Gulley.

Dr. Gulley encourages everyone to reach out for the care they may need right now. "We know around the country there have been some areas that have been hit particularly hard, but the mandates that have been put in place in Colorado have been very effective, and to this date, we're seeing a leveling off of coronavirus cases within this state. Right now, things are going very well, and we're just hopeful that people continue social distancing measures, so that we continue along this trajectory," said Dr. Gulley.

News5 also reached out to UCHealth, which provided us with this statement:

First, and foremost, UCHealth’s top priorities are providing excellent care for our patients, and supporting our employees.

COVID-19 and hospitals’ response to the pandemic are having a significant and negative impact on finances. Postponing elective surgeries, procedures and clinic appointments are having a big effects on UCHealth as well as our patients who must wait for the care they need. However, these actions and Colorado’s stay-at-home order are necessary to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout our state.

While the financial toll is significant, UCHealth is not laying off or furloughing any of our employees. We have committed to paying all of our full-time and part-time employees at their full base salary through the end of May based on modeling and our hopes that Colorado will be on the downside of the transmission curve at that time. We have set up an employee hardship relief fund to provide additional assistance for unique situations. Our dedicated nurses, staff and providers are essential to providing excellent care for our patients, and we hope this provides some reassurance for them during this difficult time.

In addition to the employee hardship relief fund, which is funded by both UCHealth and generous donors, we have also set up a new program called Hours for Ours, which will provide additional PTO and support to those who are caring for patients with a COVID-19 infection. This program is funded through employee-donated PTO, and we’ve had well over 500 donations exceeding 16,000 hours. It is inspiring to see so many of UCHealth’s employees joining together to help support those who are caring for these patients.
Dan Weaver, Vice President, Communications