The nation recently passed a grim milestone: over 200,000 deaths related to COVID-19. The national media used the occasion to spotlight the impact COVID has had on the country.

Maine also recently passed a milestone that sadly received very little attention. As of Oct. 6, more than 1,000 Maine health care workers have been stricken with COVID-19. This represents about one-fifth of all the COVID cases in Maine.

There is a lot of talk about battling COVID on the “front lines.” There is only one front line, and hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers are on it, day after day, bravely and selflessly fighting the pandemic for all of us.

Hospitals and nursing homes are also fighting for survival themselves. Prior to the pandemic, half of all hospitals were losing money and the average nursing home was operating with an anemic 27 days cash on hand. From the high costs of prescription drugs to low reimbursement from government payers, it is hard to keep the doors open in normal times.

Since the pandemic struck in March, hospitals have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue because of a dramatic reduction in services precipitated by guidance from both the president and the governor to stop doing elective procedures. This, in turn, has led to fewer rehabilitation stays at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. These temporary reductions in occupancy account for lost revenues in long-term care that are projected to grow to $67 million by the end of 2020.

Thankfully, the federal government has stepped in and provided much-needed relief. However, even after that federal relief is accounted for, hospitals in Maine have still lost more than $250 million. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are on track to lose another $80 million this year due to COVID.

Earlier this spring and summer, Maine hospitals and long-term care providers asked for help from the state. In response to those pleas, the state has provided $3 million to hospitals (the federal government provided an additional $7 million in matching funds). For nursing homes and assisted living facilities, it was $3 million in state resources, matched by $5.8 million in federal funds. While we are appreciative of that assistance, it is woefully inadequate.

The federal government provided all state governments, including Maine, significant financial aid; Maine received $1.25 billion. The state has, in turn, provided hundreds of millions of that aid to businesses and non-profits (hospitals and nursing homes were specifically prohibited from applying for that aid), nearly $200 million to public schools and tens of millions to state government itself.

Hospitals and nursing homes – the battleground of COVID-19, have received nothing from this CARES Act allotment.

In neighboring New Hampshire and Vermont, more than $100 million was set aside from these state aid funds for health care providers. Why not in Maine?

Sadly, it gets worse. The governor recently announced a series of moves intended to stabilize the state budget moving forward. Fortunately, very few programs were cut. Yet, the state is going to cut Medicaid reimbursements to both hospitals and nursing homes.

During this pandemic, Maine hospitals have gone beyond their own walls to help keep our communities and our partners safe. Maine hospitals answered the call when the state needed to set up new “swab and send” testing sites. Hospitals ramped-up their lab capacity and have helped the state with contact tracing. Nursing homes set up special units with dedicated staff to care for those with COVID-19, which provided stability for residents and helped hospitals preserve precious space. Hospitals and nursing homes partnered in helping get our long-term facilities PPE, on-site clinicians and testing. When homeless shelters experienced outbreaks, local hospitals responded and provided help.

Hospitals and nursing homes have seen budget losses in the hundreds of millions because of the pandemic and government shutdown. Both have been on the front lines and have contributed to Maine’s successful response. Both employ thousands of health care workers who continue to perform their duties with courage and pride, putting patients before themselves. They have borne their share of the burden. We’re asking the governor and Legislature in Maine to do what many other states have done: Help our hospitals and long-term care facilities.


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