by: Christina Crooks Bryan and Megan McNamara Williams
One year after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Delaware, we have an important opportunity to reflect on how the last 12 months has impacted so much of what we do. Hospitals around the country, and here in Delaware, have experienced significant challenges and financial loss during the COVID-19 Pandemic and are still feeling its effects.
The American Hospital Association estimated total losses for the nation’s hospitals and health systems to be at least $323.1 billion through 2020. In the early months of COVID-19, Delaware’s general acute care and pediatric hospitals lost more than $5.66 million per day -- or $169.8 million per month. These losses stemmed from a variety of proactive measures aimed at protecting the public and slowing the spread of COVID-19, including cancelling non-urgent, non-critical services and surgeries to increase available bed capacity in the early months of the Pandemic.
While non-critical hospital services were suspended in Delaware for only a short period of time, financial losses continued as people avoided going to the hospital throughout 2020. The Delaware Healthcare Association collects hospital utilization data from its members and found that the reduction in utilization between 2019 and 2020 was significant. For calendar year 2020:
Hospital emergency room visits were down 21% from 2019;
Inpatient surgeries were down 18% from 2019;
Total discharges from the hospitals were down 10%; and,
Outpatient visits were down by over 150,000 visits.
Coinciding with the Pandemic, hospital utilization, including emergency room and outpatient visits, were down the second, third and fourth quarter of 2020, as compared to 2019. This data indicates that there was a lingering resistance to seeking medical care that remained throughout the year for both emergencies and routine appointments. Unfortunately, this delay in care can lead to many negative health outcomes and as a result, more intense treatments and overall higher costs of care.
The overall decrease in utilization directly affects hospital revenue and can have a long-lasting impact. A new analysis released by the AHA details how total hospital revenue in 2021 could be down between $53 billion and $122 billion from pre-pandemic levels, jeopardizing their ability to care for their communities. The range can be attributed to unknown factors such as the pace which inpatient, outpatient and emergency department visits return to pre-COVID levels.
Hospital utilization and revenues were down in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. While we don’t know for sure what 2021 will bring, we can all work together to improve over last year by: getting a COVID vaccine when it is available to you, keeping your routine medical appointments and checkups, and going to the hospital when you have an emergency. Taking these important steps will not only keep you healthy but will also contribute to a healthier healthcare system.