More than a year ago, the world as we had known it changed — perhaps forever. Those who were working in offices were sent home. Restaurants pivoted to delivery and take out. Doctors’ and dentists’ offices turned to telehealth or even closed temporarily.
But not hospitals.
While many were adjusting to life at home, turning spare rooms into offices and helping kids navigate Zoom learning, your hospitals were on the front lines each and every day. As so many of us retreated from the crowds, the people, the potential for infection, you ran straight into the pandemic, treating COVID-19 patients day in and day out, till the exhaustion set in and the shift was over. And then, you’d get up the next day and do it all over again.
Now, as the state’s economy has reopened with no social distancing and limits on capacity, and we attempt to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror, it’s clearer than ever that the importance of hospitals has not been lost on anyone. Indeed, the pandemic shined the spotlight on the vital role hospitals play in their communities. But admiration doesn’t pay the bills, and there’s a long way to go to before many hospitals are back on stable financial footing.
A recent Kaufman Hall report found that in 2021, California hospitals are expected to lose between $600 million and $2 billion due to COVID-19, depending on vaccination rates and the path of the virus. This is on top of financial losses of more than $14 billion in 2020. Even with some assistance from the CARES Act, this loss was reduced but still amounts to more than $8 billion.
In the midst of a pandemic, hospitals were the “heroes,” taking extraordinary measures — and quickly — to convert space and make room for more beds, procure and then allocate protective equipment to ensure an adequate supply for the long haul, and secure state and federal waivers to operate with much-needed flexibility. And at the same time, hospitals did their part to reward their heroes, spending millions on bonuses, childcare and subsidies, temporary housing, extended leave, and more.
With the vaccination effort now in full swing, we remain optimistic that the full force of the pandemic is behind us. But if the past 15 months have taught us anything, it’s the need to think differently the next time we are faced with a pandemic or other kind of disaster. Moving forward, to optimize preparedness for the next disaster, we must adopt and standardize the learned best practices from COVID-19.