(TNS) — More than 300 medical providers and nonprofit organizations in Lackawanna County, Pa., received a total of $73.8 million in federal funding to help offset increased expenses and lost revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The bulk of the funds, $58.8 million, went to medical providers in Scranton, which is home to the two largest benefactors, Geisinger Community Medical Center and Commonwealth Health system's two hospitals, Regional Hospital and Moses Taylor.
GCMC received $28.7 million while Regional was awarded $10.2 million and Moses Taylor $3.1 million.
CMS reported figures for 12 of the county's 17 nursing homes, seven of which are located in Scranton. The three homes receiving the most money, all in Scranton, were Allied Services Skilled Nursing, $2.3 million, and the Jewish Home of Eastern Pennsylvania and Linwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which each received just over $1 million.
The funding came from the Provider Relief Fund, which is part of the $175 billion Congress set aside under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to mitigate the economic damage the virus has wreaked across the nation. The figures reflect payments made to Lackawanna County providers as of Nov. 17.
A wide variety of providers were eligible for the funds, including nonprofit organizations, physicians, dentists, pharmacies, chiropractors and individuals and organizations that provide psychological services.
In Scranton, a total of 119 providers qualified, including 39 physicians and medical practices, which were paid a total of $2.4 million. The biggest chunk of that went to the Delta Medix medical practice and the Wright Center, which received $533,539 and $450,515 respectively.
While the money was welcome, officials with several recipients said it fell far short of covering all their losses, which stemmed not only from increased costs but also lost revenue after they were forced to halt certain procedures and programs in the spring.
The payments, which were released in two phases, were based on a percentage of the amount providers billed Medicare and/or Medicaid in 2019. Providers could use the funds to pay a variety of COVID-19 related expenses, including costs related to staffing, supplies, equipment and training.
Staffing continues to be a significant issue. Many providers paid hazard pay to staff, but still faced a steep increase in overtime costs. They also faced soaring expenses for other protective measures taken to halt the virus' spread, including personal protective equipment and additional sanitation.
The $28.7 million for GCMC is part of a total $146.2 million Geisinger received for all of its hospitals and clinics statewide, said Matt Mattei, a spokesman for Geisinger Health System. Hospital officials say that will cover less than half of the health system's total anticipated losses from increased costs and lost revenue, however.
Mattei said Geisinger was particularly hard hit by lost revenue from elective procedures, which were put on hold for months during the early days of the pandemic to ensure the hospital could care for COVID-19 patients.
That was a major hit for hospitals statewide, said Andy Carter, president and chief executive officer of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pa., a trade association for the health care industry.
"The impact of essentially shutting down hospitals to make room for an expected surge of COVID patients has really left a very deep financial scar," Carter said.
Hospitals resumed elective procedures in the summer, when the virus waned. They have not fully recovered from the financial hit, he said.
"It's been a slow build," Carter said. "Many patients continue to be concerned about coming into health care settings for fear that they will be exposed to the virus."
The nursing home industry also saw costs dramatically increase, particularly with staffing, PPE and COVID-19 tests of staff and residents, said Zach Shamberg, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a trade group for the long-term care industry. Facilities were required to test all staff and residents weekly whenever regions were declared to be the red zone for infections.
"The cost of testing averages about $100 per test," Shamberg said. "That cost is going to become unsustainable moving forward."
Jim Brogna, spokesman for Allied Skilled Nursing, said the facility also saw new admissions steeply decline as concerned families sought other options to care for their loved ones.
"There are many elderly struggling at home, but not seeking care in health care facilities," he said.
Delta Medix also saw a significant revenue loss due to canceled procedures, according to Margo Opsasnick, chief executive officer. She added that the funds were essential in allowing the practice to retain all its employees, even those in areas that were shut down.
"We couldn't lay off any of the staff because of all of the other services we had to keep," she said. "For instance, we had to shut down our screening mammograms, but we couldn't shut down our diagnostic mammograms because that was for people that had cancer."
St. Joseph's Center primarily used the money for hazard pay to ensure it could retain staff, many of whom were cross trained to take on other duties, said Sister Maryalice Jaquinot, IHM, president of the center.
Like the hospitals, St. Joseph's lost revenue after it was forced to shut down several services for which it receives state funding, including the adult services program, in which staff take medically fragile clients into the community. That ceased when many nonessential businesses were ordered to shut down in the spring, she said.
Jacquinot and other providers say they're hopeful a third distribution of $20 billion Congress earmarked for the provider relief program will help ease financial strain in 2021. The application deadline for funds ended Nov. 6. It's not clear yet when the money will be released.
Officials say the additional funding is desperately needed as expenses continue to increase exponentially with the continued surge in cases. They also are calling upon the federal government and states to provide additional funding going forward.
"The federal relief that's come in is very valuable, but we continue to implore both federal lawmakers as well as here in the Commonwealth to further support for hospitals," Carter said. "It's only going to become more challenging with the surge we are starting to see."
(c)2020 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.