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Health care providers see financial impact from COVID-19

CHEYENNE – As the COVID-19 pandemic caused people to keep their health at the forefront of their minds, it’s also caused fewer people to go to doctor’s offices and hospitals to seek care for other ailments.

This is causing hospitals and clinics nationwide to suffer negative financial consequences from the pandemic that’s also causing businesses to close and people to lose jobs.

Physicians statewide have experienced financial strain that they foresee continuing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release from the Wyoming Medical Society and Wyoming Telehealth Network.

About 70% of respondents said there has been an increase in cancellations, 46% said there have been administrative interruptions, and 62% said they’re experiencing or anticipate cash flow problems.

There also has been an issue with physicians getting medical supplies, with about 84% saying there have been disruptions in the supply chain for personal protective equipment, with 86% saying there aren’t alternatives to get this equipment, according to the news release.

Kelsey Kean, physical therapist and owner of Avenues Physical Therapy, said his practice has seen about a 63% decrease in patients since March. He said it will take about two or three months of recovery to get back to where they were before the pandemic.

He said he also knows the school and child care closures have limited the number of people who could get physical therapy. He said some of his clients couldn’t make it to their appointments because they were taking care of their child or grandchild.

Kean also said he’s been approved to offer physical therapy through telehealth and is taking precautions by spacing out patient appointments, wearing personal protective equipment and sanitizing between patients.

Tim Thornell, president and CEO of Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, said the hospital also is feeling the negative financial impacts of the pandemic. He said volumes are down in all areas, and they’re seeing about a 30% reduction of inpatient care and more than a 50% reduction in outpatient care.

In March, CRMC had a negative operating margin of $1 million and was projecting an operating loss close to $10 million in April.

A lot of hospitals are losing revenue because they’re doing the right thing and have stopped providing elective procedures, said Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association.

“They’re still spending a lot of money to try to be prepared, but they’ve seen a huge decrease in the number of patients that they’re seeing in areas where they normally make money,” he said. He added that revenue in those areas has been cut by 60% to 70%.

Boley said there are two important things to realize: that there hasn’t been a lot of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the state, and there has been a decrease in people utilizing hospital emergency departments and going to doctor’s clinics.

Cheyenne Regional Medical Group also is experiencing negative financial impacts from the pandemic. The physician practices are seeing more than a 50% decline in revenue and visits. CRMG has also shifted to offer telemedicine and remote visit options at most of its practices. In October 2019, CRMG launched SmartExam, a virtual visit platform, for patients.

Virtual visits also have been expanded to include some pediatric visits and added a section for people to address COVID-19 symptoms, Thornell said.

“We are managing through this difficult situation presently, but it is not sustainable long-term. We are currently mitigating the financial situation in the following ways: We are using our financial reserves to supplement current operations; this means that we have placed on hold our major capital projects to divert funds to daily operations,” Thornell said in an email. “We have also placed a freeze on new hires. And, we have limited overtime, along with implementing reduced hours for select non-urgent service lines.

“We have a strong and dedicated staff that continues to provide the best possible care to our community during these challenging times.”

Maureen Kougl, president of HealthReach, said the urgent care clinic has also seen a financial decline since March. She said she’s noticed not as many patients are seeking health care since the pandemic started.

She said the fact of the matter is people are anxious and fearful. They’ve been told to stay home, which Kougl supports, but that has caused its own problems when it comes to people seeking health care. It’s also meant that it’s economically impacted health care facilities.

“I anticipate that this will not be over May 1, when some of the orders have been lifted. I anticipate that this could have a longer-range impact, and we’re always planning for tomorrow,” Kougl said. “We have a lot of support in this community, whether it’s from the business community, from other providers in this community, we have so many resources that we’re grateful for that enable us to operate today and move forward for tomorrow.”

Kougl said she thinks the economic impacts won’t stop occurring until people feel more comfortable about going out and more orders start being lifted.