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Local hospitals face furloughs amid COVID-19 crisis

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Posted at 3:41 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 19:43:11-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Hospital workers are on the front lines of this pandemic; yet, hundreds have been furloughed across the state.

"The challenges around treating COVID-19 patients, you know, it’s all hands on deck," said Dr. Timothy McBride health economic professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

It's all hands on deck for those specializing in infectious disease and nurses, but that may not be the case for other hospital staff.

"You could keep them on payroll but you’d basically be keeping them on payroll but not using them," said Dr. McBride.

Dr. McBride says that's why hospitals like Cookeville Regional, Maury Regional, and Williamson Medical have temporarily furloughed or laid off staff.

It's impacted patients like Rayne Counts, who had an elective surgery scheduled for a broken finger.

"I broke my pinkie finger - my little one and I broke it really close to the hand area," Counts explained.

But for her, time was on her side.

"It was either kind of doing surgery then or waiting until about now to see if the hand was repairing itself," she said.

She chose to have surgery right away, but just days later, procedures like her's were canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"All hospital business is a business that operates on a pretty small margin. Even the very big hospitals," explained Dr. McBride.

It's a thin margin that has become thinner with all elective surgeries like Counts' being canceled. Another thing to keep in mind is Tennessee is one of many states, which has not expanded medicaid.

"If you’re a rural hospital and your margin is pretty close to zero and then you don’t get a Medicaid expansion, you know, that’s going to take maybe your 1% margin and make it -1%," McBride explained.

Adding insult to injury, the COVID-19 crisis has also caused unemployment rates to skyrocket, meaning more patients are coming to the hospital without insurance.

"Then you might not get reimbursed for that so it could take even a hospital that’s got a positive margin and make it even more negative," said Dr. McBride.

The state of Tennessee couldn't have seen this coming, but the question remains, do hospitals have time on their side?

"Health systems have said they’re probably losing money on that part of their operation," said Dr. McBride.

He says it costs hospitals 20% more on average to treat a person with COVID-19 than a regular patient in the ICU.

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What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.

Prevention

The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.