A grim winter and hope for the spring: hospitals confront a COVID balancing act
As of this writing, more than 96,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest total recorded in the nine months since the pandemic first emerged in the U.S., according to The COVID Tracking Project. CNN reports that COVID-19 related hospitalizations doubled in November, and states like Rhode Island have begun opening field hospitals again to help relieve the pressure.
The stratospheric hospitalization rates have created a pressing set of challenges for hospital leaders, from rising employee burnout and turnover to a resurgence of testing delays and looming projected shortages of personal protective equipment.
In more hopeful news, the prospect of FDA approval of at least two COVID-19 vaccines is on the horizon, and millions of initial doses could be distributed later this month. On Dec. 1, Moody’s revised its outlook for the for-profit hospital sector to stable, noting the prospect of improving business conditions over the next 12 to 18 months. In part due to the beginning of vaccinations. Fitch Ratings also recently projected a stable outlook for the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector in 2021.
In the near term, however, the COVID-19 outlook may continue to worsen, with many experts suggesting a Thanksgiving-fueled spike is on the horizon. The New York Times reports that some epidemiologists predict as many as 250,000 additional COVID-19 related deaths by March—in addition to the more than 268,000 deaths that have already been recorded in the U.S.
The dire short-term outlook—coupled with the possibility of widespread vaccine distribution mere weeks away—reinforces the need for providers to balance managing day-to-day volatility while preparing their organizations for continued uncertainty well into 2021.
- California officials are recommending that hospitals administer COVID-19 tests to all staff weekly, while testing and monitoring all admitted patients
- CMS is expanding flexibility for hospitals that provide acute care services to patients in their homes, to help offset pressure from rising hospitalizations
- More than 53 million Americans, or roughly 15 percent of the population, may have been infected with COVID-19 by the end of September, the CDC estimated recently
- UnitedHealth’s forecast for 2021 earnings is lower than expected, with the company citing projections of continued COVID-19 related costs and rising claims for deferred electives in the new year