Cincinnati-area hospitals got nearly $700 million and all of Ohio received $4 billion from emergency federal pandemic spending known as the CARES Act. Local hospital leaders say the sector would be in a far deeper hole now without that help.
“Republicans and Democrats both root for their community hospitals,” said Mike Abrams, president and chief executive officer of the 240-member industry group the Ohio Hospital Association. “No one wants to see the local hospital go under.”
The new coronavirus pandemic put an unprecedented financial strain on one-sixth of the economy just as humans needed their hospitals the most. In March 2020, to protect the hospitals as they confronted the first surge of COVID-19, Ohio ordered a six-week pause to nonessential surgery and procedures as part of the overall state shutdown.
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Those six weeks alone cost OHA members $2.4 billion, Abrams said. But since then, Ohioans have been slow to reengage with health care. Combined with the higher costs of caring for COVID-19 patients, the further drain is running at about $2.6 billion, “a fiscal blow that really shocked many members,” Abrams said.
More than 2,000 providers in the Cincinnati region received $699,444,125 in CARES Act funding, an Enquirer analysis of federal data shows. Local leaders told The Enquirer the money also allowed hospitals to help nursing homes and rural facilities and was especially important in the brutal months-long scramble for personal protective equipment.
To see which hospitals, nursing homes and other providers got money, search the graphic at the bottom of the story.
The Enquirer analyzed by each facility the amounts of federal money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. The region’s No. 1 recipient was Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, at more than $92.4 million.
“The government directive for the shutdown of services and the slow ramp-up certainly directly delivered a huge hit to the revenues of an institution like this,” said Michael Fisher, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital president and CEO. The hit at Cincinnati Children’s was about $174 million, he said.
“This is always about care for children, so that would be first and last,” Fisher said “This is also about continuity of both that care and the capabilities of this institution. I am very grateful to the federal government and to the taxpayers for this funding.”
Fisher pointed out that while children were not as afflicted with COVID-19 as adults, Cincinnati Children’s has been integral to the region’s pandemic response. The hospital has run arms of clinical vaccine trials. Since May, the James M. Anderson Center for Health Systems Excellence has crushed terabytes of regional data into digestible daily reports. No employee of the region’s largest employer was furloughed or laid off.
UC Health was the No. 2 regional recipient of CARES Act money, $70.6 million, and, “Our losses were well north of $100 million,” said Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health. “It really did undermine our financial stability with extraordinary expenses, staffing costs, the hunt for PPE.”
In Northern Kentucky, at least 370 providers received $107 million. St. Elizabeth Healthcare centralized COVID-19 patients at its Fort Thomas hospital, which received $67.3 million in CARES Act money in The Enquirer’s analysis. Garren Colvin, St. Elizabeth’s president and CEO, said the federal dollars eased losses that have been more than $100 million as well. St. Elizabeth also did not furlough or lay off workers.
The Christ Hospital Health Network received $42.5 million in CARES Act funding. As did other hospital leaders, interim President and CEO Deborah Hayes expressed dislike for the term “bailout” as imprecise. There’s a difference, she said, in bailing out the auto industry amid the Great Recession and helping hospitals in a global health crisis due to a state-ordered halt in operations.
The CARES Act funding eased the burden on Christ Hospital, Hayes said. “We’re describing a nonprofit, mission-based organization. In the nonprofit world, you have to generate some type of margin so that we can continue to invest in our organization.” While declining to disclose numbers, Hayes said the shutdown last year “essentially evaporated” Christ Hospital’s caseload outside of COVID-19.
“No organization in the United States can withstand that for long. We needed to invest in our infrastructure, or we could have had what could have been the most catastrophic results. … The CARES Act gave us enough money to be able to continue the mission.”
The Bon Secours Mercy Health hospitals in Cincinnati together received $52 million. In August, David Fikse, president of Mercy Health-Cincinnati, had estimated pandemic costs as high as $1 billion to the umbrella organization, Bon Secours Mercy Health. In March, though, Fikse said the CARES Act money staunched the red ink, gave leeway to bring back furloughed workers and allowed preparation for the January surge of patients. “All those factors played into us being able to recover,” Fikse said.
The hospital leaders were unanimous that the CARES Act funding was vital in the search for PPE, which Lofgren of UC Health called, “nothing short of the wild, wild West.”
Fikse said the PPE situation was complicated by the poor condition of the aging national stockpile, “much of which was unusable.”
No one wants a repeat of that experience, which has led the OHA’s Abrams and Mark Clement, president and CEO of TriHealth, to suggest that PPE manufacture should at least in part be repatriated to the United States as a matter of national defense.
“When America understands how beholden we are to foreign governments for crucial supplies, America going to be scandalized,” Abrams said. “We need to be having the different conversation to reshore critical assets to this country. … Shame on us if we don’t carry that lesson forward.”
“We were not prepared as a country,” Clement said. “The situation left health care providers to their own devices. … In the same way that we created a reserve of petroleum, I would argue that PPE is equally important for the security and national interest.”