The coronavirus and subsequent shutdown have taken a heavy toll on health care facilities in Central Washington, as well as on the people who work in them. That is ironic, because their central role in the response to the pandemic, preparing for a virus about which little was known, certainly highlighted their importance in the region’s communities. Everyone living here relies on local health care.
Samaritan Healthcare of Moses Lake, run by a public hospital district, ended March with a net loss of more than $750,000 and a $1.3 million gap between expenses and revenue from treating patients. Also, earlier this month the Herald reported that Samaritan had to furlough employees and administrators and managers took a 20 percent cut in pay to reduce expenses.
The losses and cuts were due to the mandate from Gov. Jay Inslee that hospitals cease all non-essential surgeries and procedures in order to keep facilities free to accommodate an expected large wave of coronavirus patients. That wave has not materialized. The fact that relatively few patients with the virus in the region have been hospitalized is absolutely a good thing. Yet, health care providers had their hands tied and were unable to provide a range of services that generate revenue.
The state defined as non-essential any procedures “that, if delayed, are not anticipated to cause harm to the patient within the next three months,” according to the governor’s proclamation. Life-saving treatments were allowed, but things like joint replacements, cataract surgery, non-urgent cardiac procedures and the like were off the table. Those things may indeed be non-essential in the face of a deadly pandemic, but to the institutions and people who make their livelihood from them, they are quite essential indeed. They will also be welcome to the people who have waited patiently, perhaps with worsening conditions, to be made better.
So, the announcement this week that Samaritan Healthcare will resume normal services is very encouraging.
The reopening is heartening in another way as well, as a sign that the state may be returning to something resembling normalcy. The governor recently expanded the criteria under which counties may move to the second phase of his reopening strategy, extending that opportunity to Adams County and, hopefully soon to Grant County as well. Hope is on the horizon.
Our health care facilities have indeed taken a heavy blow from the coronavirus shutdown. Perhaps, with reopening at hand, they will survive it mostly intact and residents can get the health care services they need.