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Letter: Banning elective procedures hurts rural hospitals

The Detroit News

COVID-19 exposed the vulnerability of our health care system, testing our limits in every aspect of Hillsdale Hospital’s readiness response. Governmental orders now jeopardize our hospital and the community’s health. 

Already cash-strapped rural healthcare agencies managed to navigate the lack of adequate supplies by quickly adopting such resources as reusable mask cleansers, industrial hand sanitizer and homemade face shields manufactured specifically for us.

We adapted, we always do in healthcare and especially in rural health care given our limited resources. What we were not prepared for was the significant decline in health care utilization throughout our entire system which is now magnified by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s omnibus Executive Order 2020-17 banning elective surgeries at all hospitals.

In Michigan, 35 counties each have less than 30 COVID-19 cases. Several have less than 10, yet the wholesale approach of Whitmer’s executive order has prevented these hospitals from engaging in elective surgeries, which is the lifeblood of the hospital.

The unintended consequences of the Governor’s executive orders are a lack of health care access for patients and lack of operating income for rural hospitals, says Hodshire.

These surgeries account for a significant portion of our hospital revenue including pre- and post-operative services such as x-rays, blood tests, home care and physical therapy. The health care continuum has been compromised and a critical link in the chain will soon be broken if we do not return the health care decision making to local health care professionals-not politicians.  

The unintended consequences of the governor’s executive orders are now creating lack of access for patients and lack of operating income that keeps local health care running, ultimately risking the potential closure of rural hospitals. Fear of leaving home is now keeping our patient population from using much-needed services. This must end as hospitals know how to perform elective surgeries and manage risks at the same time.

We know how to reduce the transmission of viruses. Hillsdale Hospital has demonstrated this over the past six weeks, given our patient to staff transmission of COVID-19 has been zero. 

COVID-19 has raised awareness of struggling rural hospitals by magnifying our challenges as it relates to reimbursement. Rural America needs its hospitals, yet 100 rural hospitals nationally are considered to be at risk of closing as a result of COVID-19.

This will affect the long-term health and welfare of our communities. If there is one thing that we need now more than ever, it’s certainly not an acquisition resulting in fewer services to rural patients. We need to begin providing elective surgeries to our patients without the fear of violating the overreaching executive orders.

It's ironic that a global pandemic, exacerbated by the governor’s refusal to allow local clinical leaders to make the decision to safely reopen our operating rooms, has led to significant clinical staff layoffs, furloughs, wage reductions and divestment of much needed health programs in our communities.   

This can end quickly; lift the order, allowing hospitals to utilize science-based best practices to reopen our services and begin taking care of our patients.   

Jeremiah J. Hodshire, vice president and chief operating officer,

Hillsdale Hospital