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Live Mic: COVID-19 taking bite out of hospital budgets in Utah

(Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. KSL TV, file)

SALT LAKE CITY — According to the World Health Organization, about 1 in every 5 people infected with COVID-19 develop difficulty in breathing and require hospital care. But with a recent surge in pandemic cases, how are hospitals and their workers doing in Utah?

As of Oct. 19, there are 4,688 hospitalizations in Utah, 2313 in Salt Lake County and 546 deaths due to coronavirus.

An American Hospital Association AHA report released June 30 found that the financial strain facing hospitals and health systems due to COVID-19 will continue through at least 2020 with total losses expected to be at least $323 billion in 2020.

As workers lose their jobs during the pandemic, their private health insurance disappears as well. As a result, planned elective surgeries are canceled. 

Also, as the coronavirus spreads across the country, doctors nationwide canceled tens of thousands of non-urgent surgeries so hospitals could clear bed space and free up staff to prepare for COVID-19 patients.

In Utah

Greg Bell, president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association, joins Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to explain what hospitals are facing and how they’re being impacted by the pandemic.

“How is Utah faring as broadly as you can speak?” Lee asked about the situation today for hospitals in the state.

Bell said hospitals nationwide are being challenged by coronavirus and handling the pandemic financially. He added that some members of the Utah Hospital Association are freestanding, single-purpose facilities such as addiction and recovery hospitals.

“Those businesses have been hit really hard,” Bell said.

He said patients aren’t scheduling the medical procedures that they once did. People aren’t seeking routine medical care and follow-ups, Bell added.

Rural Utah

“Rural hospitals in Utah are doing OK,” Bell said. He added that there are nine rural hospitals in the state that are nonprofit and owned by the people in the community.

Because coronavirus has been pretty low level in rural areas, hospitals in those regions haven’t had to change their order of business much, Bell said. He said the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act — a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress — has helped carry rural hospitals in Utah through the pandemic.

“They are going to make it in the short term, certainly,” he said. 

Health care costs

Intermountain Healthcare (IHC), a 24-hospital health system based in Salt Lake City, is eliminating 250 business-function positions to reduce costs and improve healthcare affordability, the health system announced Tuesday. The reductions will occur through voluntary separation and ongoing attrition and will not affect direct patient-care positions, according to

Lee asked whether Bell anticipated more layoffs at other Utah hospitals.

“Intermountain would not call that a layoff,” he said, adding that even before the pandemic, IHC CEO Marc Harrison was looking to take some of the expense out of health care and drive down the cost of medications and unnecessary procedures.

“As the hospitalization rate increases day after day, how are the hospitals doing the last few days here?” Lee asked. 

“Hospitals are doing great. The staff are tired. Beds don’t care for people. Doctors and nurses care for people,” Bell said. “We’re really glad for the governor’s mandates and orders. . . This is a lot of leadership shown by our state government . . . Our hospitals are doing OK, but they’ve lost a lot of money, the bigger ones especially that have had the Covid problem, but they’re swimming through it.”

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.  


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