PLATTSBURGH — Two University of Vermont Health Network hospitals on Thursday reported losses in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021, largely due to lower patient volumes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh posted a $4.1 million loss and Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone saw a $2.4 million loss.
In a news release regarding CVPH's numbers, Michelle LeBeau, president of both facilities, noted the struggles of hospitals nationwide, especially those in rural areas.
"Health care was in transition before COVID and the pandemic has accelerated that change," she continued. "What we will become is yet to be determined. It’s unclear whether patients will return in the same numbers as before COVID.
"We really are in unchartered waters."
The network's fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, meaning the first quarter spans October through December.
LeBeau said patient visits at CVPH had been steadily dropping, with a slight exception in the fall when COVID-19 cases increased.
"Then in late October, just as the new fiscal year began, the UVM Health Network was hit by a cyberattack, hindering our ability to schedule and see patients in the outpatient areas,” she said.
Operations at the hospital were impacted by the cyberattack, later confirmed as ransomware, for several weeks.
According to a news release, December brought an operating loss of $2.4 million for CVPH, much of which was attributed to fewer patients and longer stays for higher-acuity patients.
LeBeau praised CVPH staff for being there for patients and each other. It was noted that management of expenses had resulted in about $1.7 million in savings, though compensation and benefits in December still exceeded budget.
“COVID-19 prompted the need to bring in traveling nurses and offer overtime to staff as more of our team was out of work due to exposure, illness and family leave,” LeBeau explained.
The hospital's financial struggles have spanned the past several years. Despite $31 million in federal coronavirus relief aid, it ended the 2020 fiscal year with a $7.5 million operating deficit, the release said.
That was preceded by $6.9 million in 2019 and $8.7 million in 2018.
LeBeau said the hospital is prioritizing keeping resources aligned with the volume of patients and the needs of the community as it works to remain viable.
“We are working to improve our patients’ experience within the health care system, centralize scheduling, optimization of Epic (a unified health record), revenue capture, payer contracting and leadership accountability,” she said.
The hospital noted strong community support. The Foundation of CVPH Executive Director Kerry Haley said $1.1 million was donated in 2020, supporting small equipment purchases through the mini grant program and the Cart with a Heart program.
Alice Hyde's operating loss of $2.425 million in the first quarter was partially offset by a little more than $1 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding brought onto the books during that time, according to a press release. As a result, the net operating loss was $1.365 million.
Christopher Hickey, the chief financial officer for both Alice Hyde and CVPH, said patient volumes that lagged far behind pre-COVID levels were to blame for the losses.
It was noted in the release that, through Dec. 31, gastroenterology patient visits were down by about 60 percent, and adult and pediatric discharges, births and outpatient surgeries were each down by about 40 percent. Outpatient visits were about 19 percent lower.
“Over the summer and beginning of fall last year, we were starting to see the return of volumes to normal levels," Hickey said in a statement. "However, the reemergence of COVID-19 completely reversed that trend.”
Though Alice Hyde was able to save $1.26 million, mostly by leaving open positions unfilled, the organization will need to continue finding ways to reduce costs and align with lower volumes, Hickey said.
“We are in a position of having to continue to challenge everything about the way we operated before COVID."
LeBeau said the hospital is continuously being put in an unsustainable financial position due to the pandemic's mounting impacts.
Since whether or not patients will return at pre-COVID levels is unknown, Alice Hyde is focusing on what it can control, such as operational improvements and managing expenses, she added.
"The past year is proof that Alice Hyde has remained true to our mission despite the pandemic’s challenges. That’s a commitment we will continue to keep, even as we search for ways to place our organization on a sustainable path forward.”
BROKE EVEN IN FY2020
Still, Alice Hyde ended Fiscal Year 2020 in a better-than-expected position.
The hospital had announced in November that it expected to end Fiscal Year 2020 with a $1.4 million operating deficit, even with $10 million in federal stimulus dollars.
According to a news release, that projection was based on multiple factors including revenue collection rates of 34.4 percent. But a year-end audit found that rate was actually 35 percent, leading to a $1.4 million increase in revenue and resulting in a breakeven budget for Fiscal Year 2020.
"That’s a tremendous achievement given the challenges presented by the pandemic, and it’s due to the hard work and dedication of every member of the Alice Hyde family," LeBeau said in a statement.
"Like many health care organizations, despite that great result, 2021 continues to present significant challenges to our organization, and we must continue to focus on finding ways to respond and lead the conversation about the future of health care in our region.”
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