The lockdown's deadly impact on Chicago's and America's hospitals


The costly and misguided coronavirus lockdown orders have unconscionably  threatened the very existence some hospitals, especially those in Chicago’s underserve, minority communities.

Four hospitals on Chicago’s South Side–Advocate Trinity Hospital, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, South Shore Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital–had planned to merge into a more efficient operation and better serve African Americans.

Together they had lost $76 million last year and now were seeking $520 million in state funding over the next five years to help the struggling hospitals create the new health care system.

But then the overly restrictive lockdown regulations crippled hospitals by ruling out procedures some government official decides are “elective.” And the Illinois’ new “balanced” budget ignored the hospital’s request.

So much for the merger. Here’s hoping that all four hospitals survive.

That Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Legislature run by House Speaker Michael Madigan deep sixed the hospitals’ request is a scandal. Undoubtedly, they believed that the first priority is giving government employees (who have continued their employment through the crisis) a raise. And also that the government employee pension funds need to be “fully funded.”

So, how can I be calling for hundreds of millions of dollars of new state spending while criticizing our leaders for their budgetary legerdemain and mounting debt? Because instead of funding the pensions at an arbitrary amount decreed by the Legislature (as demanded by the state’s toughest lobby–government employee unions), the money should go to where the immediate needs are desperate.

These hospitals are not the exception. Just about every hospital in the country has been jolted by the ill-considered order to close down for everything except COVID-19 cases. I earlier described how a relative suffering a life-threatening heart crisis was at first turned away because his procedure was classified as “elective.”

The Washington Examiner has a fine article describing how the shutdown has threatened the viability of Hillsdale Hospital, a rural facility in Michigan. They were ready, having prepped the staff and hospital for the predicted onslaught of COVID-19 cases. The onslaught never arrived but the financial problems did.

For weeks, Hillsdale Hospital had watched Detroit’s healthcare system struggle to fight the first wave of COVID-19. It never arrived and the hospital lost almost $10 million in March and April to the elimination of  elective and outpatient procedures. There’s no end in sight until Michigan Gov.Gretchen Whitmer relaxes the lockdown. 

Meanwhile, the magazine reported, the University of Michigan health system lost $230 million in revenue and had to lay off or furlough 1,400 healthcare workers. Nationally, more than 1.4 million healthcare workers are out of jobs.

The nation-wide damage of the lockdown to America’s healthcare system has yet to be calculated. Nor has the death toll of people who were scared into not going to the hospital.

Epidemiologists say it’s not their job to estimate the full costs of a lockdown. Not even if one of the cost is the fracturing of the nation’s health care system. It’s a shame. 

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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