By the end of April, New Hampshire hospitals had received $150 million in emergency funds to help with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The 30-member New Hampshire Hospital Association, which includes Cheshire Medical Center in Keene and Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, expected to lose $200 million a month.

“Hospitals are going to need immediate, significant financial relief to not only serve their patients today but to survive this public health crisis and be able to serve their communities in the future,” Steve Ahnen, association president, writes in an April 22 letter. “While the funding received to date is incredibly important and helpful, it doesn’t come close to addressing the gaping financial holes that have been created, and we will continue to work with policymakers and the governor’s office for Emergency Relief and Recovery about the crucial need for more resources to help hospitals get through this crisis.”

On May 1, Gov. Chris Sununu and state officials announced steps to begin reopening parts of the economy. Lori Shibinette, health and human services commissioner, says the hospitals were able to keep up with demand for COVID-19 illnesses, and a plan was created for them to begin to allow time-sensitive care with a focus on safety.

Cheshire Medical Center reports that it lost $2 million per week since March 16, when it was forced to postpone all non-urgent procedures and non-urgent in-person clinic appointments to help conserve personal protective equipment and ensure the safety of patients.

“While we’re not where we would like to be financially, we are doing relatively well compared to our peer organizations and have redeployed staff to other areas of the organization in an effort to avoid furloughs,” reads a statement issued by the hospital on May 1. “Cheshire Medical Center is eager to begin our return to normal operations but only when it is appropriate to do so, and in coordination with local, state and system partners.”

At the time of the statement, the hospital had received $4 million in federal stimulus funds. The funding is “helpful yet will not fill the entire gap,” reads the statement.

The hospital asked departments to monitor expenses closely and postpone all nonessential projects not involving patient care and safety.

As of April 13, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in Vermont expected to see a decrease in revenue of about 55 percent. In a letter to the community about 10 days earlier, BMH President and CEO Steve Gordon notes that hospitals temporarily reduced services in response to the pandemic.

“This situation has required us to institute a furlough program for non-essential, non-clinical staff,” he writes. “The furloughs, which represent less than 10% of our workforce, will enable us to continue to focus our resources on the functions directly related to essential COVID-19 patient care needs while protecting our staff and helping to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Gina Pattison, director of development and marketing at BMH, says the hospital has never seen such a drastic reduction and revenue.

“And although temporary,” she adds, “we have never had such a substantial reduction in staff.”

Nonessential elective procedures, cardiac rehabilitation, mammography screenings, and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scans were suspended. The hospital also consolidated its outpatient primary care practices from six to three.

BMH received some financial assistance during the crisis. Pattison says the bulk of it came from a loan from through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that will need to be paid back.

Construction of the four-story, 27,875-square-foot Ronald Read Pavilion at BMH has been postponed until June 2020. The addition is meant to expand the hospital’s surgical unit.

“We will evaluate the start date based upon pandemic status,” states a message from Gordon in March.

Monadnock Community Hospital created a special fund for the crisis. Monetary contributions are going toward purchasing personal protective equipment, supplies, and support services for employees.

“These are certainly challenging times,” states a message from Cynthia K. McGuire, president and CEO at MCH. “Despite the adversity we’re facing, I’m inspired by the strength, compassion and determination of our employees and the community.”

Cheshire Medical Center also sent out an appeal asking for donations to purchase personal protection equipment. 

Chris Mays writes from South Newfane, Vermont.

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