Unless Health Care Workers Return to Work ASAP, More Hospitals Could Close

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hit America like a stroke—sudden, unexpected and devastating. And like a
stroke, the damage can be permanent. However, the sooner we intervene, the
greater the chance to return to health.

Among America’s
first responders, medical professionals and health care workers have been
heroes in the early fight against this scourge. They can—and should be—the
leaders in returning our country to economic health.

means needing to put all of America’s large and diverse health care delivery
systems back to work.

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America’s hospitals are not overwhelmed
by COVID-19 patients. That’s a major misconception. Rather, there are about 200
to 300 hospitals in hot spots like New York, Illinois, or Louisiana that are
taking care of an enormous number of patients.

The administrators, physicians,
and staffs of these hospitals are doing incredible work under very difficult
circumstances, and they deserve a great deal of thanks for the work that they
are doing.

But there are approximately 5,600
other hospitals in the United States that have empty beds, and their employees
are losing their jobs. They are facing the worst rate of job loss in 30 years.

The reason: In response to
COVID-19, hospitals have refrained from performing any services that were not
emergencies to make sure those patients with COVID-19 had intensive-care unit
beds and necessary supplies.

Beyond any impact on Americans’
health, stopping the performance of these medical services has been a costly
decision. Nationwide, hospitals, medical offices, and outpatient services are
losing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue daily.

Most hospitals draw about 50
percent of their entire revenues from outpatient services, and those have been
curtailed almost entirely.

Rural hospitals are hurting
even more.  Virtually none of them are in
hot spots for COVID-19, yet all of them have stopped non-emergency services.

Before the onset of this coronavirus, about 1 in 4 rural hospitals faced a risk of closure, and now, of course, these hospitals are at even greater risk.

In short, COVID-19 is devastating
American hospitals. For the majority of them, however, it’s not because of the
number of infected patients they are seeing, but rather because of the number
of patients they are not seeing.  

As a doctor, I find this profoundly
worrisome. It’s not only that we may lose many of our hospitals and specialty
practices, but also that we may also lose our patients.

Consider the personal danger to
patients. What are we missing now that we are not doing mammograms? What is the
threat posed to patients whose surgery is delayed for something we think is
benign, but may not be?

The decreased number of emergency
department visits being reported across the country is an even greater reason
for concern.

In our small town of Carrollton,
Georgia, we have a single hospital system for the entire county. Based on a study
of total monthly emergency room visits, we found a 47% decrease compared with
last year.

Does that mean that people with
heart attacks or small strokes or diabetic emergencies are staying home? What
is happening to them?

As a doctor, I want my hospital
to reopen. For the benefit of our patients, we need it to reopen.

While controlling this
coronavirus, the nation must also begin to recover our economic life.

Health care is a logical place
to restart the engine of full employment. There are three good reasons for that.

First, health care is a large
and growing sector of the American economy. It amounts to approximately 18% of America’s
gross domestic product and employs roughly 1 out of 8 Americans. Getting it
back to full strength will have a huge impact.

Second, in coping with this
pandemic, the health care workforce is highly skilled, perhaps more so than in any
other sector of the American economy. Health care workers understand how to
disinfect and thus protect against disease spread. It is what they do.

In battling this pandemic, they
have been doing an exceptional job, as evidenced by the comparatively low death
rate in this country.

Finally, we have made real progress in the supply chains for tests and gloves and respirators. Also, we now have a better—though incomplete—understanding of this disease and how to control it.

Medical professionals and health care workers generally have stepped up and have done an excellent job. As first responders, they have been America’s vital and necessary front-line fighters in battling COVID-19.  They are proven and trusted leaders, and we should also fully deploy them in our effort to secure our nation’s economic recovery. Reopen American health care now—all of it.


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