Written by Kathleen Moore in The Post-Star on June 15, 2020
GLENS FALLS — Half of the furloughed Glens Falls Hospital staff are still not back at work.
High-demand departments, including mental health care, are still running below capacity because staff are furloughed.
And the hospital is still in deficit, having not qualified for most of the federal aid created for the coronavirus crisis.
The pandemic hit Glens Falls Hospital when it was already staggering financially.
Having lost more than $38 million in a disastrous billing software change from 2016 to 2018, the hospital was still in deficit when it had to shut down most operations in March.
It did not qualify for most federal help because it is not classified as a rural hospital and there was no large-scale outbreak here that filled the hospital with patients. Federal COVID-19 aid was only designed to help rural hospitals and hospitals handling outbreaks.
On Friday, the hospital finally got some help: $13 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But it wasn’t enough.
“The $13 million is a huge help, but it does not close the gap between lost revenues during the NY Pause and the continued expense of keeping the hospital poised and ready if a surge materialized,” spokesman Ray Agnew said in an email.
People are waiting urgently for care.
Glens Falls Hospital still hasn’t brought back half its furloughed workers, including for the outpatient mental health care department, he said.
A counselor said she had a waiting list of more than 20 people for the hospital’s outpatient mental health care services. The program usually has a waitlist, she said, and it’s gotten worse because half of the counselors at the Behavioral Health Center for Children and Families are still furloughed.
There are staff members on furlough at the other mental health centers too, Agnew said.
“We continue to responsibly and safely ramp up across all of our service lines, but we are not at full operating capacity,” he said.
Private counseling groups switched to telemed and continued to counsel patients via telephone and videoconferencing.
But a year before the pandemic, hospital officials said they did not have the resources to keep providing outpatient mental health care and could not keep up with demand. Another group was poised to take over this month but suddenly dropped out last week, citing the coronavirus crisis without any details as to what effect it had on the plans.
That department isn’t the only one not fully operational. Until Monday, no elective inpatient procedures were allowed, meaning no surgery that would require an overnight stay. (Emergency procedures have always been allowed.)
Agnew said the change was good news, because the sooner elective overnight procedures can be offered, the sooner the hospital will stop losing money.
“That gap really is a moving target — so much depends on future federal funding, how much resumption of elective and soon overnight inpatient procedures affects things, and also several other important pieces of legislation,” Agnew said, adding that proposed legislation could increase Medicare funding, which would help the hospital.
So far, about half of the hospital’s employees are back at work.
“As we carefully resume more services and surgeries we have been able to bring back about half of those originally furloughed,” Agnew said.
President and CEO Dianne Shugrue added in a statement that she was grateful for the $13 million.
“Congresswoman (Elise) Stefanik and her team have worked very hard on our behalf and we are most grateful,” she said. “This round of CARES act funding was targeted toward Safety Net Hospitals and we are also grateful that the federal government recognizes how important rural community hospitals are to their constituents.”
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