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Arizona Hospitals Eagerly Await Federal Aid

By Bret Jaspers
Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 4:17pm

Hospitals in Arizona are anxious about their workers, capacities, and bottom lines as a surge in coronavirus cases is expected. There’s hope a federal stimulus package can soften the blow from a ban on elective surgeries.

In preparation for a surge of COVID-19 patients, last week Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey halted all elective surgeries in the state. 

Some rural counties had not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases at the time, and as of this writing, some still don’t (although a lack of testing is likely keeping official infection numbers artificially low). 

Small rural hospitals, where profit margins are narrow, are particularly hard hit by a ban on elective surgeries.

“In a small hospital, often, if you have a general surgeon working in that critical access hospital, that can make the difference between having a positive or negative fiscal margin,” said Dan Derksen of the Arizona Center for Rural Health. “So elective surgeries are an important component of the revenue stream that comes in.”

Derksen also expects rural hospitals to see more patients without health insurance as layoffs increase. 

The Arizona Hospital and Health Care Association said stopping elective procedures is the right call for public health. But it’ll hit all hospitals’ cash flow and profits. 

It echoed the calls of national hospital lobbying groups for federal aid.

“Across the board, this is an issue for all hospitals,” said President and CEO Ann-Marie Alameddin. “That’s why the federal legislation … is really crucial to provide that really emergency funding to hospitals so that they can continue to meet the need.”

As a federal stimulus package came into focus on Wednesday, Politico reported about $100 billion would be included for hospitals, with some oversight and restrictions.

Also on Wednesday, Dr. Cara Christ, the director of Arizona’s Department of Health Services, said Arizona has 16,000 hospital beds and 1,500 intensive care unit (ICU) beds. The department’s modeling, however, projects a need of 13,000 more hospital beds and 1,500 more ICU beds.

“We believe that the peak of our illnesses will start mid to end of April with peak hospitalizations in May,” she said. “That’s what we are trying to get ahead of.”

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