Ban on elective procedures/surgeries impacts rural hospitals already at risk of closure

Rural hospitals impacted by ban of elective procedures

CENTREVILLE, Miss. (WLBT) - Gov. Tate Reeves’ temporary ban on elective procedures and surgeries in an effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus has challenged many rural hospitals financially, with patient numbers dropping and some facilities dipping into their own reserves to keep doctors and nurses on staff.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Field Health System didn’t make a profit, CEO Chad Netterville said.

The network of five clinics and a Centreville hospital broke even.

Now it’s even worse, because Netterville said elective surgeries helped keep those workers paid and the doors open.

“If you want me to have these services somewhere down the road, I can’t just close them and keep a general surgeon around," Netterville said. "I can’t close my [operating room] and elective procedures and not do them, and keep OR nurses sitting around.”

Netterville said they’ve managed to stay afloat through cash reserves from smart business decisions and have only furloughed ten employees -- mostly clerical staff.

While Reeves’ executive order banning elective surgeries and procedures, signed into law on April 10, is expected to expire April 27 unless extended, many of Mississippi’s rural facilities remain still burdened by financial strain, according to Ryan Kelly, who serves as executive director of the state’s rural health association and chairman of the governor’s rural health care task force.

Last year, consulting firm Navigant identified 31 rural hospitals at high risk of closure, leaving them particularly vulnerable, according to Kelly.

“If non-emergency, elective procedures are not allowed by the end of May and we don’t get some sort of revenue back in, we’re gonna start to see some closures, possibly significant closures," Kelly said, adding he believes state leaders’ handling of the crisis has been very good.

Kelly believes some hospitals will see money from the federal CARES Act; additionally, the state’s major hospitals have agreed to send recovering COVID patients to rural ones if the large facilities get overrun.

That’s not happening, however, because COVID hospitalizations have not overwhelmed the state’s hospital network.

“My greatest concern from a health care standpoint is not even COVID-19 related hospitalizations and death, it’s the death of our health care system trying to treat those patients and do what we need to do from a public health standpoint," Kelly said.

Netterville said they’ve kept their clinics open to serve Amite and Wilkinson counties, ensuring they’ll be able to pay their doctors.

His biggest fear: they’ll leave if they don’t get paid.

“If I can’t keep what I have, I think it’s going to be extremely difficult, maybe impossible, to replace them when it’s over," Netterville said. “One of the most difficult things to do in rural health care is recruit a physician.”

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