California hospitals struggle financially after preparing for COVID-19 surge that never came

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – As the novel coronavirus tore through Italy and then New York in March, California, anticipating a deadly surge in cases, ordered hospitals to shut down routine procedures and called in thousands of health care workers to help patients. FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers and nurses from Palomar Health hospital protest against the…

California hospitals struggle financially after preparing for COVID-19 surge that never came

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – As the novel coronavirus tore through Italy and then New York in March, California, anticipating a deadly surge in cases, ordered hospitals to shut down routine procedures and called in thousands of health care workers to help patients. FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers and nurses from Palomar Health hospital protest against the layoffs during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Escondido, California, U.S., May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File PhotoBut the predicted surge never came. And the cost of all that preparation – setting up field hospitals, doubling the number of intensive care rooms, purchasing protective equipment – dealt a blow to hospital bottom lines, while the ban on all non-emergency procedures cut revenues in half. The measures drove hospitals in the most populous U.S. state close to bankruptcy, costing them as much as $14 billion and forcing them to lay off of thousands of health care workers, according to the California Hospital Association. Now, reeling from the twin financial blows, hospitals are struggling to get ready for a possible new surge in cases this autumn, and wrestling with the question of whether they over-prepared last time around. CALL FOR REINFORCEMENTS AMID LAYOFFS Expecting to need thousands of doctors, nurses and other workers to fight the pandemic, California in March called for a “Health Corps” to care for patients, with 95,000 people signing up. Of the tens of thousands who responded to the call to join the Health Corps, fewer than 800 have been hired by the state, according to state program data reviewed by Reuters. “The worst thing we could do was really to under-prepare,” said Dr. Sanjay Kurani, Medical Director at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, a public hospital system serving California’s Silicon
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