Health Care Pandemic Relief: Some Question How Federal Money Was Distributed

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Connecticut health care providers, large and small, received hundreds of millions of dollars through the federal Cares Act.  The act created something called the Provider Relief Fund to help those in the medical profession who have stepped forward in the pandemic 

Yet there have been questions about how the funding was distributed.

Acute care hospitals received some of the biggest pandemic payouts from the $175 billion fund, according to data through June 22.

Hospitals in Fairfield and New Haven counties, the hard-hit southwestern part of Connecticut, got more money than the rest of the state.  Six of the top 10 fund recipients are hospitals in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

Michael Urban, who teaches, and is a health care administrator at the University of New Haven, said “Most of them fall if you look, fall really along the 95 corridor, up to 91, those hospitals,  and that is sort of aligned with where the care and the cases are being seen the most.”

Hartford Hospital got the most money from the Provider Relief Fund in Connecticut, almost $63 million.  Hospital officials declined an interview, saying in a statement the federal money “…doesn’t nearly meet the financial losses we have experienced during this pandemic.”  

The Connecticut Hospital Association explained how hospitals lost millions both prior to, and during the coronavirus surge.  They increased bed capacity, competed on the open market for expensive PPE, deferred surgeries and tests, and ran up staff overtime, who were serving coronavirus patients with extraordinary needs.

UConn Health, for instance, recently said it stopped elective surgeries worth over $100 million to focus on coronavirus patients.

Mark Schaefer, Connecticut Hospital Association vice president of system innovation and financing, told NBC Connecticut Investigates “Even after accounting for the relief that has been provided, we’re still estimating lost revenue and expenses in excess of a billion dollars.”

Urban, who also worked on budgeting with the federal government at the West Haven VA, said he has issues with how the Provider Relief Fund money was awarded.  

“Congress is sort of disconnected from, really where the money should go, and how it should go”

Urban pointed out how some of the relief money was given just based on prior revenues, and, hospitals were allowed to cut staff and still receive aid.

Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford received over $40 million, yet furloughed an undisclosed number of employees.  

St. Francis Hospital declined an interview but said in a statement in part “…losses as a result of this pandemic are expected to continue.  these losses have, and will continue to significantly exceed the amount provided within the provider relief fund.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the Provider Relief Fund, says “HHS gives discretion to the providers on how best to use this relief, in accordance with the terms and conditions, based on their expertise and knowledge of each of their individual situations.”

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