The Indicator from Planet Money - Healthcare: The Pandemic's Financial Fallout

The coronavirus has strained healthcare systems — and not just in their ability to deal with surges. We talk to one hospital administrator about the financial strain of COVID-19. | Donate to your member station here.

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Content Keywords: scientist Patrick Holly
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This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on all kinds of businesses, but it has been especially hard on hospitals at the same time as hospitals were dealing with a raft of extremely sick patients and scrambling to get protective gear for workers. They were also seeing their revenue collapse elective surgeries things like hip replacements that hospitals count on for money all of those were canceled and in the strange twist of fate in the middle of a terrible pandemic hospitals were laying off their work we first spoke with dr. Patrick Holly in April. He's the CEO of the Medical University of South Carolina Health a large network of teaching hospitals with thousands of workers. We first spoke with Patrick back in April at that time. He was moving mountains to get PPE for his workers and who created emergency spaces in gyms in other places preparing for a surge of covid-19 has also

Hospitals business Head crater MUSC went from a highly profitable Healthcare Center to being around three million dollars in debt basically overnight and dr. Patrick. Holly had to lay off more than a thousand employees. We talked to him the day after he made that decision, but I would put this right up there as the hardest one.

And Caesar is a great team really work with a steam a lot over the last 15 to 17 years. I know them. Well, I know many of them on the front lines that work with them years ago a lot has changed since we last spoke with Patrick South Carolina has seen a surge in Kobe cazes since Thanksgiving but also a vaccine is on the way soap after the break what the hospital business looks like now.

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Dr. Patrick Holly CEO of MUSC Health. Thank you for joining us at so first of all, what is happening with Kobe cases in South Carolina? What what is your hospital seeing world? We had which happened in late summer things sort of petered out over the course of several months and actually got very very low by mid-fall and and I pretty much stayed there until about Thanksgiving time and that Thanksgiving, you know, we've seen a slight increase up but nothing like we saw last summer, so just just to compare it in our hospital today. We have 26 patients with covid-19 compare that to last summer and in July where we had about a hundred and twenty-six. I mean, you are obviously a scientist and Healthcare professional but also you are a manager you're running a business and your business was very effective in the first conversation we had

You would had to furlough most of your staff and you had seen your Revenue which which comes in from elective surgeries and screenings and things like that. Just completely vanish. What is the what is the business of your hospital look like right now for not doing check-ups, you know, I I I hope that doesn't mean that they're putting off more serious things, but it just it's just not quite at the same level glad that we had seen previously the last time we spoke you had actually have launched instead of an informational ad campaign to kind of reassure people who might be nervous. Are you still doing that? Did that work? Well, we've kept it up maybe not quite at the high-level when we first started but glad we stepped it up to a certain degree. We are tending to keep that up and we don't plan to the stop that until we're

Pasta, some people feel completely comfortable. Have you been able to bring back your employees? Cuz that was I think a really difficult thing for you you had to let go a lot of people who you work with for years that you were putting you knew personally. We did leave a lot of people go and then as business got better over the summer we were able to slowly begin to bring more more people back end of September. We had brought everybody back except for about a hundred people, but that was I mean initially used for a load how many people

We were well over a thousand so you were able to bring back all but a hundred that's a lot.

Yes to lose about a hundred to still a big number that to me. I would have preferred not to have done that. But in the end we we just had to do it. I know you like I guess a year ago. The hospital was quite profitable and then that was just all gone when I first talked to you. I mean it was like the projections were not looking good. And what about now? We're back to hitting budget which is just a little bit of profit, but but not much but we're not losing also like we were back in the springtime.

So at the moment things are stable and it's a tenuous situation. We'll just have to see how it plays out. And I mean Kobe can come in and search here again in January February. I hope it doesn't but it could happen and it could upend us again to get the vaccine if you guys been able to get the vaccine this week. We received it on Monday and by Tuesday, we were giving its and at this point I'll be giving almost four thousand doses how many doctors and nurses how many essential workers do you have in your hospital about ten thousand? So these are people that directly interact with patients and their almost 10,000 of them across our entire Health System. Do you have you gotten

Vaccine I've had an illness in the past couple of weeks and not been able to do that. But the first chance I can I will take it. Or have you had experience in some ways. This is the first vaccination process that I've seen what I've seen people cry a lot of people there was a surreal experience and it was an emotion by by many my folks who received it has been so much on people in the last nine months me think about what we've all been through how we always completely upended our lives and our children's lives and they just so much Weighing on people. So, you know, it didn't surprise me at all to see that happen.

And at the same time there's there's there's people just you know, it's full-on Elation as well. So it's just it's just great to see all those different emotions or the mixing and I've been finding you know, what the way one income in another random another beginning about to start. So here we are getting vaccine for this thing like that read so much havoc in this is what will give us our life back. This is what will allow us to be free and move around and get back in schools. And it's like what time to sit down here in such a short. Of time is is nothing nothing less than

You're putting a man on the moon and some of those other Great accomplishments soon. I hopefully next time we talked you will have you will have antibodies in your system, and hopefully you will too.

All right, doctor Kali. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

This episode of the indicator was produced by Brittany Cronin and fact-checked by Sean. Saldania. Our editor is Patty Hirsch and the indicator is a production of NPR.
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