Elective surgeries, grants helping Memorial Regional Health maintain ‘business as usual’ during trying time for rural hospitals | CraigDailyPress.com

Elective surgeries, grants helping Memorial Regional Health maintain ‘business as usual’ during trying time for rural hospitals

Nursing student Nathan Allred, right, works Feb. 27, 2020, in the Memorial Regional Health Emergency Department with nurses Jacie Jourgensen and Dave Higgins. The hospital has been trying to cut $850,000 in monthly expenses.
Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun

A recent wave of federal funding, along with an important decision regarding elective surgeries has allowed Memorial Regional Health to maintain business as usual during a time in which rural hospitals across the state are struggling significantly financially, leading to some closing its doors.

In fact, the state’s rural hospitals saw a 268 percent decrease in profit in March compared to last year, according to an analysis from the Colorado Hospital Association. That’s lead directly to a number rural hospitals shutting their doors.

Prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the state of Colorado, it was well known where Memorial Regional Health stood financially. The closing of certain service lines, and the termination of popular doctors, along with the dwindling numbers of days cash on hand has been well documented over the last few months regarding one of the largest employer in Moffat County.

However, due to those budget cuts and the decision to allow elective surgeries to still happen locally, MRH was able to sustain financially until the latest rounds of federal coronavirus assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Paycheck Protection Plan rolled in, totaling more than $4 million.

“Without those cuts in 2019, the elective surgeries allowed locally and the federal funding, we wouldn’t be here right now,” MRH Chief Executive Officer Andy Daniels said. “We were fortunate in the fact that we were allowed to continue elective surgeries locally, whereas Steamboat could not Meeker chose not to do so. That allowed us to have some revenue coming in, especially during a time in which our in-patient volume at the clinics and ER were down 40 to 60 percent.

“Adding in the federal help, we were able to keep employees employed locally with no layoffs,” Daniels added. “We were able to send people home to work and still pay them. For us, that was huge.”

When the federal Paycheck Protection Program was announced, critical access hospitals such as MRH (access to 25 beds or less) were not able to apply, but thanks to some help from elected officials such as Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, Congressman Scott Tipton and Gov. Jared Polis, MRH was able to gain access to an exemption to apply for the program and receive approval.

“We fought hard to get exempted into the program, which put us ahead of later legislation allowing rural hospitals to apply for that grant,” Daniels said. “They [Senators Gardner and Bennet, Congressman Tipton, and Gov. Polis] were absolutely engaged in MRH’s ability to continue to do elective surgeries safely, getting us the PPP funds and HHS help.” The PPP money is being used to keep everyone whole on their paychecks through the middle of June, Daniels added.

Before the most recent funding was announced, the Colorado Rural Health Center released a report that stated 18 of the 42 rural Colorado hospitals were operating at a loss in 2019. Memorial Regional Health was one of the 18 prior to the budget cuts.

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, some hospitals are reporting revenue losses greater than 50 percent at the same time expenses increased to purchase additional personal protective equipment and other supplies in response to the pandemic. According to Daniels, MRH was ahead of the wave of PPE and stocked up, allowing the hospital to tap into the PPE reserve, keeping costs down.

Now, with federal funding behind them and a slow increase in business as things get a little better locally, Daniels says he sees a positive outlook for the rural hospital for the next three months.

After that though, Daniels says it’s hard to project that far ahead without knowing what’s coming.

“We’re in good shape right now,” Daniels said. “But again, it’s really hard to say what things will look like later in the year with COVID. If we wouldn’t have made some of the decisions we made and pushed for some funding, we wouldn’t be here. That’s no different from some of the other rural hospitals across the country right now.”

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