CURRY COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Hospitals in big cities across the United States are dealing with an unprecedented situation requiring all hands-on-deck but those in small towns are facing very different problems.
Curry Health Network in Curry County has seen a 40-50% decline in emergency room visits. The hospital has also stopped performing elective surgeries. Such big changes mean a dramatic decrease in revenue and nearly 200 workers are feeling the financial squeeze.
Ginny Williams, the CEO of Curry Health Network, said business started declining about three weeks ago when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked hospitals to stop doing elective surgeries in an effort to protect the public and preserve personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Williams said the outpatient clinic saw about 45 patients on Thursday. Under normal circumstances, that figure would be more than 100.
“I can tell you, our parking lots are empty, our lobbies are empty,” Williams said Friday.
Most of the network’s patients are older than national and state averages since Curry County is largely a retirement community. So when hospitals and clinics have to cut back their services, it has a profound effect on the local population.
“You start to see people move away,” Williams explained. “They have to live where there is healthcare.”
In order to ensure the hospital and network of clinics in Curry County can remain open, Williams said they had to cut more than $1 million in expenses. Nearly 200 employees have been impacted: some have been laid off, other positions were eliminated and managers have seen reduced salaries.
“Our employees have responded in ways that make me so proud to know them and to work with them,” she said. “They have risen to this occasion, they have offered to help each other where they can.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released $30 billion in hospital aid funding. Curry Health Network received nearly $900,000 and more is expected as the federal government plans to release another $70 billion to hospitals.
“Unless you’re an organization that has a lot of cash, it’s really hard to maintain business as usual,” Williams said, adding that she’s seeing the situation take a toll on rural hospitals everywhere. “None of the CEOs I’ve talked to have seen anything like this in their careers.”
Williams said they’ll weather the storm but worries hospitals will take a long time to financially recover.
“We’re going to have to do some rebuilding and regaining of confidence, I think, of the whole healthcare system in America,” she said.