Without additional financial help, health advocates are afraid substance abuse treatment providers may have to close their practices, straining the system of treatment the state has invested millions to build up.
A new report from the non-profit New Futures, which surveyed 23 treatment agencies in New Hampshire, predicted that providers will have lost about $6 million in revenue by October.
“If something is not done, the progress that has been made against the opioid epidemic will be eroded,” said Michele Merritt, the president of New Futures.
The effects of this economic hardship have already become apparent. Eight of the surveyed providers said they have had to lay off or furlough staff since the virus struck in March. Seven more respondents said they would have to lay off additional staff in order to survive through early October.
With decreasing staff numbers at treatment facilities due to layoffs, patients may face long wait times before they can receive treatment. This is especially troublesome as she is expecting more severe cases of substance abuse from those who put treatment off during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, Merritt said providers that accepted Medicaid were already operating on extremely tight budgets. COVID-19 has stretched the budgets even thinner.
“This is a recipe for what could be a disastrous situation,” she said.
Primarily, losses have come from an overall decrease in those seeking treatment during the pandemic. As a result, about 83 percent of providers reported an overall decrease in revenue from insurance companies, about a quarter of a million loss between 13 providers alone.
The providers also experienced huge losses from events that were canceled due to COVID-19. Because many substance abuse treatment providers are nonprofits, events like fundraisers generate a large portion of their funding. On average, respondents lost about $40,000 from canceled events.
Furthermore, many of these providers have had to sink money into new technology to continue operating during the pandemic. On average, providers spent about $3,000 on technology such as video conference equipment and video conferencing licenses to support telehealth.
About half of the surveyed providers applied for paycheck protection program loans through the federal government. For many, it wasn’t enough.
New Futures is lobbying the governor’s office to allocate an additional $15 million to help providers throughout the state.
This funding would be used to reimburse providers for the cost of personal protection equipment and the technology used for telehealth in addition to ensuring providers have the funds to maintain their staff.