Although we are far from declaring victory against the COVID-19 pandemic, there are encouraging signs that the most intensive phase of our battle is succeeding. The number of new COVID-19 cases nationally is tapering downward and some initial studies have shown that far more people were infected but had mild or no symptoms at all.
In hard-hit New York State, Governor Cuomo told reporters recently that “right now we’re projecting that we are reaching a plateau in the total number of hospitalizations and you can see the growth and you see it starting to flatten. Also, change in daily ICU admissions is way down. The daily intubations number is down and that’s all good news.”
Also, Deborah Birx, director of the White House COVID-19 response, commented, “we’re starting to see that we may be actually – in a series of communities outside of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – creating a much flatter graph, a much flatter curve.”
As you know, we are far from being able to return to “normal,” however as health systems and hospitals continue to grapple with the clinical and financial implications of widespread COVID-19 cases, many are now turning to a new focus on preparing for the future. We’ve compiled several trends that we believe we’ll start to see as the healthcare industry gets closer to a new normal and that may impact our clients and healthcare providers.
The Opening of Elective Surgeries.
As local and federal government officials carefully weigh any moves to “open up” their states and the nation, one of the key considerations will be lifting the restrictions on elective surgeries. Some hospitals and health systems have already begun to do so, with many others initiating their recovery plans.
In fact, Bronson Health’s President and CEO Bill Manns says, “we are working to adapt to continuing COVID-19 care while still safely serving all of our patients. We are starting to ramp up surgeries and other procedures within the scope of the Governor’s order with a goal of having our hospitals back to 100% by September and our practices, many of which have been doing video visits, at 100% by August. If we can do it sooner, we will.”
As this trend becomes more widespread, there will be need for physicians and nurses to move back to the surgery function who may have been redeployed to handle the pandemic. In addition, facilities will need to adjust their staffing model and resources as the patient demand and accessibility changes over time.
Potential Return to Standard Pay Rates.
There has been a nationwide call for travel nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic to help meet surge demands. These heroes have answered the call in great numbers, putting their own lives and wellbeing at risk. As such, with the demand comes increases in pay rates for those willing to care for patients under conditions of extreme risk.
Across the U.S. – especially in states such as California, New York and Washington – crisis pay for travel nurses is at record highs. In fact, travel nurse pay nationwide has risen by 76% and has gone up as much as 90% in Washington State – the original hotspot of COVID-19 patients. Further, the healthcare industry news site HIT Consultant states that “Hospitals are paying crisis/pandemic rates up to $4,400 weekly to quickly staff up for the caring of COVID-19 patients and pay for emergency department nurses has almost quadrupled with the spread.”
While the increases in pay is needed and well-deserved for these invaluable healthcare providers, there has been financial impacts on facilities and healthcare systems. The high price of filling the COVID-19 staffing void is another financial hit for hospitals already losing revenue after canceling scheduled surgeries, outpatient visits and other lucrative procedures in an effort to limit the virus’ spread.
As the crisis demand for travel nurses begins to diminish for hospitals and systems who are on the other side of a flattening curve, there is a likelihood that pay rates will decrease back to normal levels. According to Hank Drummond, Chief Clinical Officer at Cross Country Healthcare, “Those travel nurses who have quite literally sacrificed their life and wellbeing in order to serve this country and its citizens in an unprecedented time of need have certainly earned the right for higher pay during this time.
“It is important to prepare for future changes in pay rates as the basic laws of supply and demand take effect post-pandemic. As we begin to win this fight against COVID-19, and the healthcare industry begins to return to the pre-pandemic supply and demand levels for talent, we may see pay rates change alongside it.”
More Emergency Department Visits.
Hospital emergency rooms (ERs) have remained open during this pandemic, but patients, even those with serious health conditions, don’t seem to be using them. A survey of nine major hospitals earlier this month showed the number of severe heart attacks being treated in U.S. hospitals had dropped by nearly 40% since the COVID-19 virus took hold in March. Patients are fearful of entering hospitals amid the pandemic, some calling it “a virus of fear.”
And it’s not just heart patients who are avoiding going to the hospital. At USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, overall ER patient volume is down 40% to 50%. The facility is seeing COVID-19 related cases, but all the rest of the chest pains, abdominal pains and other complaints they are used to seeing on an everyday basis has dropped significantly.
The decline isn’t just being driven by fear of catching the virus. The number of injuries across the country has fallen as most people stay home – resulting in fewer accidents and other injuries. There’s also some public confusion over the cancellation of elective procedures, according to CNBC.
As the country begins to win the war against the virus and more cities and states relax stay-at-home orders, there is belief that the fear of going to the ER will subside while hospitals may see a spike in ER visits as people leave their homes. It will be critical for hospitals to prepare and plan for that event and the fact that while they don’t have a surge now and don’t need that workforce now, doesn’t mean they won’t need it in a few weeks or months. Hospitals will need to look at ways to retain its ER workforce and make sure they don’t lose that capacity.
We Are Still in This.
Hospitals and healthcare providers will need to balance the need to prepare for a return to a new normal with the realization that this pandemic may be far from over. With projections of a possible 2nd and 3rd surge of COVID-19 and the upcoming Flu season, these are uncertain times.
At Cross Country Healthcare, we remain committed to helping our valued clients and healthcare providers navigate this ever-changing environment. If you need assistance, please contact us.