Op-Ed

Public hospitals giving their all to save lives. But they need help to save themselves | Opinion

It may be hard to put yourself inside the head of healthcare workers right now. They are treating a menace that science barely understands. It threatens to overwhelm their hospitals, their communities and their hearts. During their shifts, they try to keep up with fast-changing guidelines to treat critically ill patients who have been isolated from loved ones by no-visitor policies. After their shifts, they worry about returning to their own families with the virus on their clothes or in their lungs.

It may be easier to sympathize with many other hospital employees: the budget analysts and contract administrators and other support professionals. Most have been sent home — some to work remotely, some forced to burn personal days as we try to stave off furloughs and layoffs. Like many of you, they now have too much free time to contemplate the uncertainty of the coming weeks and months.

It’s about to become impossible to pay either of those groups.

No one wants to talk about money in the middle of a health crisis, but hope alone will not cash checks written to employees or suppliers. We are trying to keep our health system afloat while caring for our sickest neighbors.

At a high level, the finances of nonprofit health systems are simple: A small share of complicated or elective cases provide a huge share of the revenue. And public institutions like Jackson Health System serve so many uninsured or underinsured patients that they depend on sales taxes to close the gap.

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Because our hospitals are responsible, first and most, for confronting this disease, we have focused almost all our resources on the patients who simply cannot wait for care. Over just a few days, we cut off our own funding sources in order to sustain our mission — in fact, creating capacity for this outbreak has pushed us to our lowest patient volumes in recent memory.

For Jackson especially, the community’s wise and responsible decisions to lock down our cities are also freezing the consumer spending and sales taxes that keep us afloat.

Your nurses, doctors and techs didn’t wait. They mobilized before the first COVID-19 patients walked through our doors. We need them in our emergency departments and intensive-care units and drive-through testing sites and everywhere else our community expects them to serve.

Your nonprofit hospital systems can’t wait, either: not for white papers or economic reports or grant applications. Not for some slow-moving stimulus that may not include funding to compensate hospitals like ours for all these vacant beds.

Now is the time for leadership. Now is the time for bipartisanship or, better yet, for nonpartisanship. Now is the time for action.

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We are here for you right now. Please, be here for us right now.

Carlos A. Migoya is president & CEO of Jackson Health System.

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