Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grant program, which will support facilities in rural communities across Tennessee as they grapple with the fallout of COVID-19.
Following is a statement from THA President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D., regarding the announcement.
“It’s no secret Tennessee’s rural hospitals have faced significant financial challenges for several years. As all hospitals confront the COVID-19 pandemic, these facilities have been hit particularly hard by steep reductions in already limited volume and revenue due to the delay of elective procedures in accordance with state and federal guidance.
“These unanticipated shortfalls threaten hospital viability and the ability to respond to community needs related to COVID-19 and ongoing health needs. Multiple federal grant and loan programs, such as those offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Small Business Administration, already are proving useful to rural hospitals.
“Today’s announcement from Governor Lee presents a new option for these facilities as they work to establish plans of action that stabilize revenues and ensure continued operation through the current public health crisis. THA is grateful for the governor’s support and leadership in protecting rural hospitals. This program will bring much needed relief to many of our state’s community hospitals.”
Below is a statement from THA President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D., regarding the mandatory stay-at-home order issued by Governor Bill Lee.
“We deeply appreciate the work of the governor and his team during this difficult time in our state. It is a constantly evolving situation, which has required different levels of responses along the way.
“Hospitals are supportive of any action that encourages citizens to stay at home and limits social interaction, which is why we applaud Governor Lee for putting in place Executive Order 23.
“We know these types of decisions are not made lightly. However, all of us – including healthcare workers – are placed in harm’s way each time someone attends a large gathering, visits an elderly family member or widens their circle of personal interaction. These actions are confirmed as leading to increased exposure and risk for viral spread. This ultimately places additional burden on our increasingly strained healthcare system.
“Thank you, Governor Lee, for your leadership during this time of crisis and for taking this action, which requires Tennesseans to stay at home unless it is for essential activities like going to the grocery store, pharmacy or seeking care for a medical emergency.”
Below is a statement from THA President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D., regarding the extension of the mandatory stay at home order issued today by Governor Bill Lee.
“As Tennessee continues to see the benefits of social distancing and staying at home through a slower uptick in COVID-19 cases as opposed to more widespread outbreaks, hospitals are grateful for Governor Lee's continued leadership to mandate Tennesseans remain at home unless engaging in essential activities. The continuation of this order further ensures a flattened curve in Tennessee and greatly benefits our citizens, hospitals and healthcare workers as the fight against COVID-19 wages on.”
Tennessee hospitals are experiencing a negative financial impact of approximately $1 billion per month due to the pandemic, according to an analysis conducted by the Tennessee Hospital Association (THA).
As the COVID emergency continues, hospital revenues dramatically have dropped as both inpatient and outpatient service utilization have plummeted. At the same time, the costs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential resources that are in short supply due to the crisis rapidly have increased.
“Tennessee hospitals have taken all of the appropriate steps to conserve resources and create capacity for COVID-19 patients,” said THA President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D. “These facilities have maintained expensive operations in preparation for and to serve COVID-19 patients while experiencing a dramatic drop in volume and services that typically comprise their core business. This creates a paradox of hospitals experiencing severe financial strain when their services are most needed.”
Hospitals are vital to the communities they serve and accept all patients from all payer groups, including Medicaid, Medicare, commercial insurance and the uninsured. The result of accepting many patients whose care is reimbursed below cost or not at all is that hospitals have thin operating margins. Hospitals carefully must balance their offered services in order to survive.
“In 2018, 71 hospitals in Tennessee had operating margins that were 2 percent or below, and 60 had zero or negative operating margins,” Dr. Long added. “It doesn’t take a pandemic to stress the system, and COVID-19 has made the situation much more difficult for many of our hospitals.”
Part of the statewide call to create hospital surge capacity and preserve PPE and other crucial supplies included the cancellation of elective medical procedures. Hospitals began postponing non-essential procedures even prior to Executive Order 15 and willingly complied with all directives in order to support the public health emergency. However, the unintended result is a staggering negative impact of approximately $1 billion per month to an industry that typically generates an average of $1.7 billion in monthly revenues.
This issue has been a top priority for THA, which has advocated for financial relief for hospitals during this crisis.
“Recent funding opportunities for hospitals that are being made available at the federal and state levels are very much appreciated lifelines to this vital industry,” Dr. Long said. “However, the reality is the impact is so massive that more assistance will be needed in order to ensure continuity of operations at hospitals and provide a necessary level of care. Now more than ever, Tennesseans need their hospitals to remain open and caring for their community.”
Below is a statement from THA President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D., regarding Governor Bill Lee’s announcement that elective procedures can resume on May 1.
“Hospitals and healthcare workers are incredibly grateful for the actions taken by our state leaders as well as efforts made by Tennesseans every day to slow the spread of the virus. Thank you to everyone who has done their part to help flatten the curve. Because of these actions, Tennessee has not experienced patient surges beyond what our hospitals can handle.
Part of the response included the temporary suspension of elective procedures and hospitals willingly complied with those directives in order to support the public health emergency.
With the suspension of elective procedures set to expire at the end of the week, THA has worked with Tennessee hospitals and the state’s Unified Command on a plan for resuming elective surgeries. The result has been the development of guidelines for a responsible, phased restart of elective procedures that allows hospitals to approach reentry in a manner that is most appropriate for their community and unique circumstances.”
In response to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s executive action today to grant COVID-19 liability protections to hospitals and other healthcare providers, Tennessee Hospital Association (THA) President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D., made the following statement:
“Tennessee’s hospitals are grateful to Governor Lee for his latest executive action that recognizes the immense pressures faced by healthcare providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The liability protections granted in Executive Order 53 will provide hospitals and healthcare professionals with appropriate safeguards as providers respond to the growing number of cases and hospitalizations across our state.
“Continually evolving health guidance from federal and state agencies helps ensure appropriate and effective treatment of all patients – both COVID-19-positive and those receiving care for non-virus-related conditions. However, as a result of the changing guidance in the midst of the pandemic, it is vitally important to protect healthcare providers from baseless or opportunistic litigation.
“Today’s order rightly does not extend protections in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct, which underscores the commitment of hospitals to provide the safest and most effective care despite the challenges of our current environment.
“I am incredibly proud of the work of hospitals over the past four months to care for communities and face the biggest public health crisis of our generation. THA and its members remain unwavering in our commitment to fight COVID-19 and support the health needs of all Tennesseans.”
Below is a statement from THA President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D., regarding wearing face coverings in public spaces.
“Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, we all worked together to flatten the curve by staying home. These efforts resulted in our state seeing far fewer cases and hospitalizations than were predicted at that time.
“While it worked for the short term, we know it is not feasible to stay home for months on end. Now that more Tennesseans are leaving their homes more often, cases and hospitalizations are rising at a concerning rate.
“The best way to keep our state open and prevent further spread of the disease is to continue to social distance and for all of us to wear a face covering when in public.
“Wearing will help keep businesses open. Wearing will slow down the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Wearing protects our most vulnerable Tennesseans. WEARING IS CARING.”
Below is a statement from THA President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D., regarding wearing face coverings.
“We are once again at a crossroads and we need our fellow Tennesseans to help ensure we head down the better path.
“COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising again, and if these trends continue, we could experience bed capacity issues in certain parts of the state. We all need beds and available staff in our hospitals not only to care for COVID patients, but to care for those experiencing heart attacks, strokes, injuries and all other kinds of issues that may require a stay in the hospital. Delaying care or preventive screenings also can lead to worse patient outcomes and greater costs, so it is critical that the healthcare system maintains the ability to serve all patients.
“If you live in a community where it hasn’t yet become common to take extra precautions, be the example. Show that you care for your fellow community members by wearing a mask in public, staying six feet apart from others and avoiding large gatherings where these precautions aren’t possible. If we take precautions, it also will help businesses stay open and prevent additional financial hardships.
“Doing these things will not only help the economy, and protect hospital capacity and healthcare workers in your community, but it may also save the life of a family member, friend or neighbor.”
The COVID-19 vaccines have been the key driver in the decline of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths in Tennessee since the peak we experienced in early 2021.
However, the rate of COVID-19 infection in Tennessee once again is rising. Average new daily cases are up by almost 240 percent and our average test positivity rate has more than tripled in the past three weeks. After months of declines, COVID hospitalizations have increased by more than 40 percent in the past 10 days.
This recent increase in cases and hospitalizations is due to Tennessee’s lower than optimal rate of vaccination – currently 38 percent – and the presence of new COVID-19 variants, which are more contagious and may cause more severe illness. According to data from the Tennessee Department of Health, 97 percent of all new cases and 98.5 percent of recent deaths in Tennessee have been among unvaccinated individuals, further underscoring the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine in slowing and eventually stopping the pandemic.
The COVID-19 vaccines provide safe and effective protection against all known variants (including the Delta variant), with very low rates of adverse events.
Vaccination against serious communicable diseases is a long-standing public health practice responsible for the eradication of smallpox, the near eradication of polio, and millions of lives saved worldwide from these and other diseases like measles, rubella, tetanus and diphtheria. Widespread COVID-19 vaccination is especially important to protect individuals who cannot mount a strong response to vaccination themselves.
Hospitals have played the central role in treating individuals with COVID-19 and we recognize that we have an equally important responsibility to encourage and support the vaccination efforts that can protect our communities from further harm. On behalf of Tennessee’s hospitals, the Tennessee Hospital Association urges all eligible Tennesseans who have not already done so to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It not only protects you from serious illness and death but also is the path to eventually stop the introduction and spread of COVID-19 variants.
“Tennessee hospitals are once again asking for support from our communities in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. Every hospital in our state is experiencing capacity issues due to the surge in COVID patients. All ICU beds are currently full in most hospitals in every major metropolitan area of the state. These are the hospitals that normally accept transfers of the sickest patients from other hospitals and healthcare providers, so when these facilities are full, it affects the healthcare system statewide. This means that if you or a loved one need treatment for any type of serious healthcare problem like a severe injury, heart attack, or stroke, you may not be able to access the care you need, when you need it.
COVID hospitalizations statewide have increased by over 800 percent in the 45-day period from July 1 to August 15 – from fewer than 300 patients to more than 2,300 and the number continues to rise. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, at least 88 percent of these COVID hospitalizations and 94 percent of COVID deaths are among unvaccinated individuals.*
The number one tool we have to protect ourselves and our community from COVID is vaccination. COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Tennessee since late last year and have been proven safe and effective. Fortunately, over the past several weeks, Tennessee has seen an increase in vaccinations, and we are thankful for each and every Tennessean who has done their part to help end this pandemic by getting the vaccine. But it’s not enough. In order to reduce the strain on our hospital system and prevent more illness and death, more Tennesseans need to get vaccinated.
Unfortunately, the primary variant in our state, Delta, is much more contagious and is spreading at a much faster rate. This is why, in addition to vaccination, masking in indoor public places is also recommended. A mask traps droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes and containing the droplets helps stop the spread of COVID-19. Masking also protects the person wearing the mask by reducing the number of infectious droplets they inhale.
Our hospitals continue to be there to care for their communities, and individuals should not delay seeking care. Please help ensure there is a bed available for all Tennesseans in their time of need by reducing the spread of COVID by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public spaces.”
*(data from May 2021 – July 2021)