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Hospitals worry about funds as virus spreads

Clearfield has first confirmed case

Clearfield County has joined Centre and Cambria, as counties contiguous to Blair with a coronavirus case.

And Centre’s caseload has risen by four to seven, according to Tuesday’s COVID-19 report from the state Department of Health.

Clearfield has one case, while Blair remains without a positive — although that could change with UPMC’s startup of a dedicated specimen collection center in Altoona on Tuesday.

Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College didn’t respond to a request for information on how it is handling cases in Centre County.

Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown reported that in addition to its handling of a Cambria resident’s case, it received — then transferred — an infected resident of Somerset County, which borders Cambria.

The governor’s office on Tuesday added an eighth county to its list of those whose residents have been ordered to stay at home, with Erie County joining Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.

All but Allegheny and Erie are in or just above the southeast corner of the state.

The state’s case numbers continue to increase “exponentially,” with new positives doubling every couple of days, according to State Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who has been reporting coronavirus developments daily on a webcast.

While the stay-home order and the statewide closure of non-essential businesses and schools are designed to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, the actual and potential costs of dealing with the threat has hospitals calling for help and warning of institutional collapses if help isn’t given.

Easton Hospital in Northhampton County has said it may need to close if it doesn’t get $40 million from the state, according to statements made on a conference call Tuesday hosted by the Hospital and Healthsystems Association of Pennsylvania.

Other hospitals might also need to close if the General Assembly and governor’s office don’t come up with a financial package to help defray the loss of revenue due to cancellation of lucrative elective surgeries, the added cost of overtime, the hiring of additional staff, the acquisition of additional supplies and equipment, the establishment of child care facilities and extra housing for new workers and other financial burdens imposed by preparations for and reactions to the crisis, according to HAP CEO Andy Carter.

The pandemic has the potential for creating “unimaginable fiscal consequences,” he said.

He cited an official in a hospital in Brooklyn, where the pandemic is “a few weeks ahead of us,” who said his staff costs have risen by $34 million a month.

Closures could happen in the “worst case — or even the middle case (scenarios),” he said. And closures in the midst of the pandemic would be “devastating,” he said.

Someone on the conference call suggested electives earn hospitals up to 80 percent of their revenue.

Some Pennsylvania hospitals “already operate on a razor’s edge,” and are particularly vulnerable, HAP spokeswoman Rachel Moore said.

A third of the association’s member hospitals lose money on operations in any given year, although there are “pockets of financial stability and strength,” at least in normal times, according to Carter. “But these aren’t normal times,” he said.

UPMC didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday on whether it sees COVID-19 as a financial threat.

According to Carter, the hospital association wants to work with state lawmakers on the amount of the proposed funding package.

“We want to collaborate,” he said.

But it would be an “extraordinary” amount to match the size of the possible patient surge, he said.

Washington state has 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s population and its hospitals received a $200 million infusion, Carter said.

The hospitals would draw on the fund only as needed, he said. The association is also hopeful of special federal assistance, which would offset some of the need for state help, Carter said.

The hospitals wouldn’t “double-dip” if the federal funding becomes available, he said.

The association is also calling for “regulatory relief,” Carter said. That includes relaxation of licensure requirements and of rules around such matters as establishment of child care facilities, he said.

Meanwhile, the association is helping hospitals move supplies from areas where there is a current surplus to areas where they’re needed, Carter said.

Needed most are ventilators, hospital beds and personal protective equipment like masks.

Hospitals are “burning through” items like masks, Carter said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

By the numbers:

Statewide coronavirus positives: 851

Number of counties with positives: 40 of 67

Positives added Tuesday: 207

Total deaths: 7

Negative results: 8,643

— Pa. Department of Health

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