MHA vice president, Chris Mitchell, gives an update on hospital financial and operational health

Chris Mitchell, executive vice president of advocacy and public affairs at the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA), said Michigan hospitals sustained significant financial and staffing losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout surrounding it. Fortunately, federal funding from the CARES Act helped all hospitals stay open, retain and assist their workforce, and adequately respond to the pandemic.

 

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Like other hospitals and health systems across the country, Mitchell said the pandemic led to decreased hospital revenue due to delaying of care and limited procedures. Decreased revenues were exacerbated by the rise of uninsured patients in hospitals and increasing workforce needs. 

“It’s been a tough 15 months. We are seeing volumes beginning to increase over the recent months, but a number of our hospitals in Michigan are still not operating and still haven’t gotten back to those pre-pandemic levels.”

However, federal dollars allowed every hospital in Michigan to remain open, both in urban and rural parts of the state. Mitchell said larger hospitals and health systems have not needed to step in and assist rural hospitals from closing. 

“We are fortunate here in Michigan that we did not have a hospital close during the pandemic, whether that is in rural or urban areas. There hasn’t been any need for some of the larger hospitals to make any adjustments.”

According to Mitchell, workforce shortages have been an issue since the beginning of the pandemic. Hospitals have been operating at above capacity since the public health crisis began, putting strain on staff. This leads to many health care professionals retiring or transferring to non-acute care settings.

Demand for staff last summer for additional help was immense and led to a lot of inter-hospital competition, which made workers more expensive. Mitchell said demand is slightly lower now due to limited cases, but new variants can change the demand very quickly. 

“While some of that demand clearly has gone down as we are not in a state of resurgence of the COVID virus here in Michigan, we’re certainly and keenly aware that there is a distinct potential for things to surge out again, and we could be right back where we were previously.”

To combat these issues and assist their current staff, Michigan hospitals have instituted hazard pay to their staff to compensate for traumatic stress and burnout. Mitchell said hospitals have also implemented behavioral health support in house. 

Mitchell said that hospitals and MHA are working with partners and lawmakers about recruitment and loan forgiveness efforts for the newly graduated. They are also contemplating receiving funding for paid personal sabbatical for their mental health.

Mitchell said COVID cases in Michigan have reduced significantly in hospitals. According to the state of Michigan’s COVID data and modeling updates, 1.3% of inpatient beds are occupied by COVID patients, which is the 9th lowest in the country as of July 13. However, Mitchell is worried about the Delta variant and its higher transmissibility rate

“We’ve been through this with a new, more transmissible strain with B.1.1.7, [so we] know that it could easily create a force here in Michigan, so we are certainly paying very close attention to it.”

The current rate of the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant in Michigan is 1.3%, according to Mitchell. 

Mitchell remains hopeful that hospitals can get through any potential future threats based on their previous resilience. 

“We have seen that with the help of our state and federal partners, our hospitals were able to effectively manage the worst pandemic of our lifetime. I truly believe that as long as we continue to work together and work with our partners and the federal government, that we can get through anything together.”