AHA urges Congress to increase financial support

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In an American hospital association virtual political briefing Last week, hospital and health system leaders briefed congressional staff on the ongoing challenges their organizations are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and why additional congressional support is needed.

LaRay Brown, president and CEO of One Brooklyn Health System, Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York; Craig Cordola, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ascension, a multistate health system serving 151 communities; and Dr. Lori Morgan, CEO of Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., discussed challenges including labor shortages and staff burnout; loss of income due to the complexity of care and the suspension of regular services; and increased costs for labour, equipment and supplies.

“The crisis in hospitals and the healthcare system is real,” Morgan said. “As a group, hospitals large and small stood up for their communities when no one else was able to. But help is needed.”

She urged Congress to provide additional support to “stabilize hospitals and ensure that we will be able to move forward and provide needed care in our communities.”

Among other actions, leaders urged Congress to quickly disperse remaining funding from the Supplier Relief Fund and add $25 billion; expand Medicare escrow relief; give hospitals more time to reimburse accelerated and prepaid Medicare payments; and provide relief to some 340B hospitals so they can remain eligible for the program.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT

Cordola, from Ascension, spoke about staffing shortages that made it difficult to care for patients during the worst phases of the COVD-19 pandemic, which he said weighed heavily on the minds of existing staff.

The system sometimes moved personnel from state to state and used its size to ensure a steady flow of needed supplies, such as personal protective equipment. Despite all of this, Ascension had a tough January, with the healthcare system taking heavy financial losses during the month, Cordola said.

He added that Ascension spends $100 million a year on contract labor. The system now spends this every month.

The Delta and Omicron variants have dramatically increased costs, he said, which has “put an unprecedented strain on our caregivers.”

Morgan, a trauma surgeon, said the complex, changing and relentless demands of the pandemic have placed Huntington in a crisis management position.

“The care provided by our staff has been physically, mentally and emotionally taxing,” she said. “It has been an endless marathon of illness and death that none of our caregivers have experienced before.

“They’re exhausted and they’re exhausted,” she said, noting that many have left the profession or retired early.

This is the second time in recent weeks that the AHA has implored Congress to release funds from the PRF. The organization sent a letter to Congress in January to that effect, stating that “no PRF distributions have been made or announced for expenditures related to delta or omicron variant surges, despite a sharp increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“The lack of PRF dollars to address the issues caused by the delta and omicron surges has left many hospitals facing overwhelming financial and operational challenges,” the letter reads.

THE GREAT TREND

Early in the pandemic, Congress created a Provider Relief Fund to help health care providers mitigate their financial losses.

Supplier relief funds of $178 billion have been allocated to all suppliers and an additional $8.5 billion has been targeted for rural suppliers. The funds were disbursed in multiple tranches and in targeted payments with strict safeguards as to how and when they could be used.

In May 2021, the AHA urged the Department of Health and Human Services to distribute remaining relief funds to providers.

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