Hospitals overall are losing money, and it’s likely to get worse; Cynthiana hospital says it’s ‘at a negative 25% margin’

A report prepared for the American Hospital Association predicts half of the nation’s hospitals will be losing money by the end of the year unless Congress gives them more relief money, and some of those hospitals are in Kentucky.

Overall, hospitals usually have an operating margin of 3.5 percent, but that is expected to be minus 3% for the second quarter of this year, once the figures are compiled, and could sink to minus 7% in the third and fourth quarters — and half of all hospitals are likely to operate with a negative margin, said the report by Kaufman Hall, a health-care consulting firm.

“That drop would have been negative 15% without funding from Congress, which gave providers $175 billion a few months ago,” Robert King reports for Fierce Healthcare. Hospitals had to give up their most profitable function, elective surgery, in the early months of the pandemic, and now many Americans are reluctant to enter a hospital.

AHA organized a call with reporters and hospital executives, including Sheila Currans, CEO of Harrison Memorial Hospital in Cynthiana. She said the hospital tries to get an 0.6% operating margin in a good year, but “We are at a negative 25 percent margin.”

Rural hospitals like Cynthiana’s have struggled most, and that’s par for the course, says Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. “For the last 20 years, rural hospitals have been struggling,” Morgan said. “That’s kind of who they are.” NRHA says “Many rural hospitals are also facing workforce reductions at a time when residents need care most,” and quotes Debrin Jenkins of the West Virginia Rural Health Association: “I think it’s redline dangerous … I think it will be a huge increase in death.”