Citizens Medical Center

Citizens Medical Center’s workers wave toward the Healthcare Heroes Parade earlier in May.

Victoria County's hospital expects to feel the financial strains of COVID-19 well into the next fiscal year.

Like hospitals throughout the country, Citizens Medical Center continues to face declining revenues after the nationwide lockdown designed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. For more than two months, a majority of health care visits were postponed to free bed space for COVID-19 patients and to limit the possibility of spreading the disease.

In April, 231 surgeries were performed at Citizens, 80% less than the same month last year and a significant cut into a major source of revenue, according to figures discussed at the board of managers meeting Wednesday.

“This took a big bite into a lot of the great growth we’ve seen so far this year. So unfortunately, April is a bit of a set back for us,” said Duane Woods, the hospital’s chief financial officer.

When he presents a budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year next month, Woods said he expected the projections would show the hospital losing money.

“Fair warning, it’s highly unlikely I’m going to be able to put a positive bottom line budget on the table for you all,” he said. “It’s not what we want to do, but we obviously want to put a realistic budget out there that’s attainable and shows growth toward getting back to the great progress that we have been making, and I know we will.”

Throughout April, the hospital saw a decline in surgeries, emergency room visits and average patient stay. Because state and federal mandates limited what services the hospital could provide, some staff saw their hours cut as fewer patients came in for care.

To help compensate for the lost revenue caused by the COVID-19 safety measures, the federal government has distributed billions of dollars in aid and loans to hospitals and physicians.

Citizens received $20,318,631 in advanced Medicare payments, which cushions the facility’s cash reserves right now but functions as a six-month advance on the hospital’s Medicare billings, not as a handout.

The hospital was not eligible for a Paycheck Protection Program loan because it employees more than 500 people. Citizens also received a $2.3 million grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, better known as the CARES Act. Hospital leaders said Wednesday they were unsure whether the hospital would receive additional relief funds from the federal government.

Although the hospital’s balance books will remain a challenge, the hospital’s chief medical officer offered a brighter outlook about the state of the disease outbreak in the Victoria area.

Dr. Daniel Cano said there had been a significant slowdown in COVID-19 patients the hospital has treated recently. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, 15 of the 159 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Victoria County were active cases.

“We have had some fatalities, unfortunately, but on the whole we are getting through this pandemic locally, pretty well overall,” Cano said.

The county has reported seven deaths because of the pandemic.

To adapt to the pandemic, the hospital instituted new testing protocols so any patient receiving surgery would be tested for the new coronavirus before going into the operating room. The hospital also adjusted a 38-bed wing so all of its rooms have negative pressure air flow, which is preferred for infection control. One hall of the wing will continue to have negative pressure air flow, and the second can be converted back to negative pressure within a few hours should the hospital begin treating more COVID-19 patients, Cano said.

“We remain ready to take an influx of cases if that’s what happens to our community,” Cano said. “We’ve obviously seen that happen in other parts of the country and I don’t think by any means that Victoria would be immune to that, so it’s important that we all maintain the practices that we are doing.”

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health and health care for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Questions, tips, or ideas? Please get in touch: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

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