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Officials: Vt. Hospitals Face Financial Uncertainty In Midst of Coronavirus

A pizza board reading "screening" and a yellow sign reading "ambulance entrance."
Nina Keck
Rutland Regional Medical Center on Sunday. Regulators and lawmakers are taking steps to keep hospitals financially healthy as they undergo strain due to the coronavirus.

Concern is growing among policymakers about the financial health of Vermont's 14 hospitals as the new coronavirus causes additional expenses and declining revenues.

Hospitals have canceled non-urgent elective surgeries, normally a big source of cash flow. Franklin County Sen. Corey Parent raised the issue during a Wednesday conference call with other senators. Parent said Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans is facing a financial crunch.

“They're looking at losses of about a million dollars a week — is their projections through this. I'm sure UVM Medical Center and some other hospitals would see larger [losses],” Parent said. “Are we looking at how we're going to support them and keep the doors open through this?”

Senate President Tim Ashe told his colleagues that keeping hospitals open and financially strong is a top priority for the Legislature and the Scott administration.

“We are reaching out to the administration to ask how they plan on dealing with the cash flow in the weeks ahead,” he said. “So that’s on the sort of hot-burner issue list. Obviously, they [hospitals] are doing the right thing by clearing out the space, but we can’t have them shutdown as a result.”

"We are reaching out to the [Scott] administration to ask how they plan on dealing with [hospital] cash flow in the weeks ahead. So that's on the sort of hot-burner issue list." — Senate President Tim Ashe

Six of Vermont’s 14 hospitals projected they would end the 2020 fiscal year with a deficit, according to reports submitted last summer to the Green Mountain Care Board.  As the losses mount, some hospitals have sought steep rate increases, and Springfield Hospital, which has 25 beds, is trying to restructure its debt after declaring bankruptcy in June.

Hospitals are required to submit their budgets at the beginning of July. After that, the Green Mountain Care Board, which regulates hospital budgets, starts its annual budget review and rate-increase hearings.

But the Green Mountain Care Board on Wednesday agreed to relax hospital financial reporting deadlines in light of the worsening COVID-19 crisis.

Board chairman Kevin Mullin said hospitals should be given breathing room in light of the pressure the coronavirus is putting on the state’s health care system.

“I don’t think this is the time for us to take valuable time and resources away from the efforts in the field,” Mullin said.

The board was set to finalize its budget framework for the next fiscal year, but unanimously voted to postpone that deadline.

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