DEMOREST, Ga. – The catastrophic impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on rural hospitals across the country.
Hospitals in rural communities manage their business operations on extremely thin margins primarily due to cuts in reimbursements from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The majority of the margin is provided by outpatient services such as surgery, lab, imaging, therapy and rehabilitation services. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) directed that all elective procedures in hospitals be postponed. This directive will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 through close contact and preserve Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers that care for those who are infected. Unfortunately, the consequences of postponing outpatient services and elective procedures have caused a significant decrease in volume and subsequently diminished a vital revenue source that helps sustain the hospital.
As a result of these circumstances, Habersham Medical Center has to respond to these financial challenges and make hard decisions for a sustainable future. To this end, effective Monday, April 6th, HMC leadership instituted a temporary furlough. “This is a difficult step taken to address a difficult moment,” says Lynn Boggs, HMC’s chief executive officer. “While making this decision was hard, it is necessary for HMC to, first and foremost, hold true to the mission and values of our hospital by minimizing our employees’ exposure to COVID-19. We must also be responsible stewards of the limited resources we have to prepare for and respond to the coronavirus outbreak.”
Employees impacted are from support departments. This decision to temporarily reduce staff will not affect direct patient care. Although furloughed employees will cease or have reduced work temporarily, they will remain in active status with the expectation of returning. “Because this is a rapidly evolving situation, we do not know how long it will be in effect,” says Tyler Williams, HMC’s vice president, strategy and business development. “At any moment, our furloughed employees may be cal led back and reinstated to their roles in the hospital. HMC will continue to monitor the impact COVID-19 has on the healthcare system and will make changes when necessary to ensure our community has access to exceptional care and service for years to come.”