NORMAN — Most industries are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but one industry primarily affected by COVID-19 is health care.
Local health care officials have reported significant financial losses for several reasons, including concerns from patients due to the pandemic and increased spending on medical supplies. The Society for Healthcare Organization Procurement Professionals estimates that the cost of certain medical supplies has increased tenfold due to COVID-19.
However, metro area hospitals are still equipped to handle a surge in cases despite being financially stunted due to the pandemic, local health officials say.
Becky Lewis, system director of infection prevention at INTEGRIS Health, said the hospital spends more on personal protection equipment (PPE) during the pandemic due to multiple factors. In some cases, the amount of demand for PPE has made some products unavailable, Lewis said.
“We have been challenged with situations where we are charged a premium or a prime rate when trying to get critical items,” Lewis said. “On top of that, we are using a lot more, so it’s really multifactorial.”
A recent study by the American Medical Group Association showed a significant portion of lost revenue is due to less nonessential surgeries and procedures, which has caused other financial issues for INTEGRIS Health, Lewis said.
Lewis said health care systems are telling patients to consider other modalities if their procedures aren’t necessary or urgent, forcing the health care industry to be innovative in how they connect communities with care across the continuum.
“On the flip side of that, we have also seen the effects (of not) having some of those routine visits, or people being scared to go to the doctor or hospital,” Lewis said.
Lewis said all of the hospitals in the metro area are wanting to affirm to the community they feel confident in their state of practices to keep people safe, and urges those who need care to seek it.
Lewis said providing care during a pandemic requires constant communication.
“Within our own organization, we have frequent calls between our corporate office, system office and (our) facilities to understand, again, this perpetual game of chess and making sure we are able to move in a proper place and not cause a deficit downstream,” Lewis said.
Lewis said INTEGRIS uses a daily-tiered huddle system to handle increased volumes of care. This allows them to efficiently discern where they have opportunities to put patients.
“(We want them to know) that no matter where we send them, they will get our standard of care,” Lewis said.
A report released by the American Hospital Association predicts the total amount of revenue lost from March 1 to June 30 by U.S. hospitals is $200 billion, and those impacts have been felt by hospitals locally and across the country.
Ken Hopkins, chief financial officer at Norman Regional Health System, said the facility has suffered losses due to a decrease in patients.
“We have seen decreases in nearly all of our volumes, including the Emergency Department, but in many other areas also,” Hopkins said. “The lost revenue associated with this decrease in (patients) has had a substantial negative effect on our financial performance.”
Hopkins said this has been true for most hospitals, but higher volumes of patients are starting to return.
Hopkins said Norman Regional hasn’t furloughed any employees due to the loss of revenue, but some staff members have reduced hours. When possible, they have redeployed those employees to handle patient screening at their entry points or other COVID-19-related activities.
CARE ON THE FRONTLINES
Dr. Aaron Boyd, chief medical officer at Norman Regional Health Systems, said the hospital is well-prepared in the event that a surge in positive COVID-19 cases leads to a rise in hospitalizations.
“We use our available space to put (COVID-19) positive patients in one area, but if we get more than that (area) can handle, we open up (isolation floors) and we can expand those isolation floors to add more beds,” Boyd said. “It just kind of steps up as we need more availability. We can do it at both campuses.”
Boyd said NRHS has external and portable buildings they can utilize for temporary emergency rooms to take care of patients if needed.
Boyd said the staff has become adept on the frontlines and has learned a great deal about caring for patients with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
“The main thing when providing that care is that we have fantastic nurses taking care of COVID-19 positive patients,” Boyd said. “They have gotten very efficient and have to wear special PPE, whether that’s a mask and shield or a (powered air-purifying respirator), and I have to do the same.”
Boyd said COVID-19 has become one of the things providers have to deal with, just like people with other infections, but it’s important to be able to simultaneously care for patients with and without COVID-19.
One way providers can care for patients without COVID-19 is through telehealth services.
According to a June 24 release by the Federal Communications Commission, urban and rural healthcare providers across the country will receive $29.41 million in CARES Act funding to assist in providing telehealth services.
NRHS was awarded $915,862 in funding for telemedicine carts, remote monitoring equipment and tablets that will better facilitate virtual visits.
Bryce Ell, manager of telehealth at Norman Regional, said with remote monitoring, the physician will have access to vital signs and pulse oximetry, which will enable doctors to make better informed clinical decisions.
“This will really aid the patient in not needing to receive care in a brick-and-mortar health care setting, where they may be exposed to COVID-19 and where providers and patients will have to utilize PPE,” Eli said. “During COVID-19, every health care system has tried to reduce usage of PPE and reduce COVID-19 exposure, so telehealth certainly helps physicians in that regard.”
Molly McCool, telehealth coordinator at NRHS, said a large part of the funding will go to telehealth carts, which are tablets that are placed on a cart and wheeled into a room with a patient and connect to a physician virtually. The carts will come equipped with otoscopes and Bluetooth stethoscopes.
“If the provider needs to see in a patient's ear or listen to heart or lung sounds, the staff member can use those devices to examine the patient. Those images and sounds are digitally transferred to the provider wherever that person is at the time,” McCool said.
McCool said this will extend the reach of providers, particularly in specialty medicine.
“If you come in and think you need to see a neurologist, we can virtually bring that neurologist in — instead of having that person drive in — so that patient is getting that (consultation) quicker, but they are still getting that same quality of care,” McCool said.
Follow me @JeffElkins12