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On The Front Lines—Hospitals Cut Costs As Coronavirus Disrupts Healthcare Industry

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An exhausted nurse.

In early April, WHQR spoke with a Wilmington native working as an ER nurse on the frontlines of the pandemic. We recently followed up with Michael—that's not his real name—to see how life in the ER has changed. 

The coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt healthcare in Michael's major metropolitan hospital. But in a new and different way – his hospital’s business is way down. 

We're still not getting a large source of revenue from elective surgeries and other outpatient procedures that generally would supply a lot of the funding that helps fund departments, like the emergency department who really don't make much money compared to these other departments.

And without those revenues supporting the rest of the hospital, ER workers like Michael are facing cost-cutting measures.

But we also are having our hours cut because the department is just losing so much money. Like my hospital system lost in the triple digits of millions in the last couple of months. So costs are getting cut everywhere.

Besides cutting hours, Michael’s hospital is also cutting benefits...including matching contributions toward his retirement. Staff in other departments have been furloughed. Across the nation, some hospital workers are seeing wage cuts. 

And as hospital systems try to cut costs during the pandemic, Michael believes patient care is taking a back seat: 

It's become pretty apparent to me that hospitals in the United States are more business oriented than patient care oriented.

When Michael compares patient care in private and public hospitals, he says the quality was better at the public hospital where he used to work.

The patient care at that particular hospital was much better, I will say.

As for the way forward? 

I definitely believe now, especially that if somebody wanted to make a significant impact on the way that healthcare is delivered in the United States, you are not going to do it unless you are in politics.

Michael’s experience is specific to his hospital and this moment in time, to be sure. Right now, he’s resting up before his next 12-hour shift, where Michael will work with fewer staff and treat more patients. That's his new normal, for now. 

Katelyn Freund is a nonfiction student at UNCW's MFA Creative Writing program. She holds degrees in Spanish and English. In her time not spent working as WHQR's CoastLine Producer, she enjoys shooting pool, humor writing, and snacking.