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Revenue drops, triggering furloughs at Montana hospitals

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MISSOULA – Montana hospitals have reduced or canceled elective surgeries to make room for coronavirus patients, cutting revenue and triggering furloughs and layoffs at medical facilities.

The Montana Hospital Association, which includes 88 hospitals and other medical facilities, has estimated that canceling pre-scheduled procedures could cost state hospitals up to $100 million after the first three weeks of the pandemic, the Missoulian reported.

“Everything that we did right to prepare our state for a surge pays off in the fact that we have lower mortality than many other states, we have lower hospitalizations,” association CEO Rich Rasmussen said. “But the costs for doing that certainly will be borne out by the hospitals for this period and for some time to come.”

Bryce Ward, an economist at the University of Montana and co-founder of ABMJ Consulting, said, “It’s easy to think, when you have a lot of sick people, there’s going to be a lot of use of health care,” but canceled procedures and people avoiding doctors’ offices is having “a real depressive effect.”

Congress signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act into law on March 27, providing financial support to hospitals across the country. But it is unclear when the pandemic will end and how much more money might be needed to keep medical facilities operational.

A 2019 study found that Montana hospitals contribute $4.7 billion annually to the state economy.

Montana’s congressional delegation announced earlier this month that state hospitals would receive about $111 million from the legislative program. Rasmussen said he believes initial amounts do not meet the state’s needs.

Health care providers nationwide had received $27.9 million through the program as of Monday, but they are only eligible if they have 500 or fewer employees.

“All of our large hospitals that were carrying the weight of COVID … they receive no access to that,” Rasmussen said, because they have larger staffs.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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