Texas

The report says that twice as many hospitals in Texas could be closed than before the pandemic.

Staff burnout and loss of revenue have placed additional strain on hospitals since the start of the pandemic, and the strain is hitting the already vulnerable Texas rural hospitals the hardest.

Now, a new report shows that about 1 in 10 hospitals in the state – about twice as many as before the pandemic – are at risk of closing. Nicole Kobler, a reporter for Axios, has joined the Texas Standard to smash the Texas Hospital Association’s report numbers.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us a little more about this report. This comes from the Texas Hospital Association, right?

Nicole Kobler: Yes, this is correct. And it’s interesting – the association says that despite the increase in federal funding under the CARES Act, hospitals are still at even greater risk of closure due to increased costs and delayed treatment, which has led to a deterioration in the condition of patients. You remember that non-emergency care was stopped; this has led to patients refusing preventive procedures and even cancer treatment. They are now accepting patients who are sicker and need longer stays.

I’m trying to understand how this will economically affect these hospitals, because if you have full beds, the hospitals are still making money, right?

Yeah. Well, during the pandemic when they stopped these preventative procedures, especially in rural areas, they didn’t take in as many COVID patients as larger city facilities. Thus, they did not receive any income from the preventive care they usually received.

Is it clear which hospitals are at greater risk than others, and which parts of Texas are we really talking about?

The Hospital Association did not give specific names or detail the regions, but the report simply had a division between rural and urban areas. Rural facilities are usually independently owned, while larger facilities in these urban areas are part of larger health care systems that receive much more money.

Back in the midst of the pandemic, there was a lot of talk among hospital workers about burnout. I wonder if this is a factor here and if hospitals can really meet the demand of patients.

Yes, it was a really big problem in Texas. Texas has really relied on field nurses during the pandemic due to a shortage of all those workers, and field nurses are expensive. The association says Texas hospitals are working to reduce their reliance on contract staff, but labor shortages mean there is still a reliance on recruitment agencies to fill those vacancies.

You mentioned that these hospitals were getting money from the CARES Act, which was the pandemic relief law. One would think that hospitals wouldn’t have the same problems as they do here in Texas. And I’m wondering if the report outlines any possible ways to alleviate or resolve this crisis.

Yes, and in fact we are talking about more funding, especially with regard to personnel issues. The hospital association says more government funding for these medical professionals will help them. And it’s also worth noting that the industry as a whole is pushing for more federal aid, citing inflation, labor [and] pressure from supply costs.

Are they talking about specific dollar amounts here, or are they just saying we need more money to make ends meet?

You know, I’m not sure about the specific dollar amounts, but I guess they need more money.

What will happen next? Obviously, we have the Texas Legislature about to reconvene. Do you feel they are listening or paying attention to those red flags?

I have a feeling we’re going to see medical groups like the Texas Hospital Association push to fund the Legislature. So far, there has been no sign that lawmakers are thinking about it.

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