OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) today sent a letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt asking his help in keeping rural hospitals open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kiger said in the letter that during the past few months, but especially over the past four weeks, many who represent areas with rural hospitals have been speaking with the governor’s staff alongside rural hospital administrators and representatives from the Oklahoma Hospital Association to convey concerns about large financial losses suffered by the hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said they have asked the governor questions and submitted suggestions to help keep rural hospital needs in the forefront of the governor’s mind during this crisis.
"Our rural hospitals are dying, and we need your help immediately to ensure our county hospitals remain financially solvent and avoid certain closure under these pandemic circumstances," Kiger wrote.
"I understand the state of Oklahoma is obligated to work off the recommendations of the CDC, and this prompted the order to cease all elective surgeries, OB, and many other surgical procedures during this pandemic. This one move alone in the order has reduced most rural hospital's incomes by approximately 80%. While ending these procedures is understandable, our rural hospitals still have employees, utilities, services, food suppliers, and supplies and equipment invoices that will have to be paid on a monthly basis."
Kiger said he, other rural lawmakers, hospital administrators and their staff had high hopes that the almost $2.2 trillion stimulus package recently passed by the U.S. Congress would provide needed income to help bridge the gap for rural hospitals that are on the brink of closure, bringing them back onto a firmer financial foundation. After further investigation, however, he’s discovered that the hospital in LeFlore County would only quality for about one-quarter of the proposed $10 million maximum loan amount allowed under the package. In addition, closing on the loan could take up to 60 days, by which point the hospital would likely be closed or massive layoffs or terminations of staff would have occurred.
"At this point, our local rural hospital is now within days of closing and/or laying off many more of our finest people that we will likely never get back," Kiger wrote.
He said to date, the hospital has been forced to terminate five doctors and two certified registered nurse anesthetists, close a walk-in clinic, suspend a physicians’ bonus program, premium pay for clinical staff and contributions to employee retirement accounts, and reduce over 50 staff in the hospital and clinics, leaving only minimal staffing until the pandemic is over.
Kiger submitted to the governor an idea from Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center CEO, Bob Carter, to add two people to his COVID-19 team: 1) a rural hospital liaison, and 2) a metro hospital liaison. He asked the governor to consider tasking these two liaisons with researching the following questions and to report the findings back to the governor weekly.
- Days of cash on hand.
- Days of cash to be received in the next week.
- Is cash on hand for payroll only or payroll and AP?
- How many staff furloughed or terminated each week?
- Any department closures?
- Survival probability of hospitals if Executive Order ends April 30.
- Could the hospital survive if an additional 30-day ban on elective procedures is enacted?
Kiger closed his letter by asking the governor to give immediate attention to rural hospitals that serve numerous Oklahomans and to help find a funding solution to keep the hospitals open. Kiger said in his opinion the fastest solutions he’s submitted is the option of using TSET money that is available right now.
Kiger ended by writing, "I want you to understand that I cannot leave this important topic to fall through the cracks. I can't and I won't allow this to happen. We need your help as quickly as possible! The turnaround for our Oklahoma hospitals has to happen right now!"