Rural Michigan hospitals say coronavirus crisis may soon force some to close

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Inside a small hospital west of Grand Rapids, administrators are staring at an ominous set of numbers.

In a typical month, North Ottawa Community Health System brings in about $5 million in revenue. That plunged to $3 million at the Grand Haven-based system in February, President and CEO Shelleye Yaklin told Bridge Magazine.

“Right now, we are already looking at how can we downsize,” she said. “Which means we will probably lay off people. We are looking at everything.”

If nothing happens soon to brighten the hospital’s revenue picture, Yaklin said the North Ottawa hospital could close in a matter of months.

Small independent and rural hospitals across Michigan say the coronavirus crisis poses an existential threat, as patient visits to outpatient clinics fall and revenue from elective surgeries and procedures like X-rays and mammograms — all widely postponed since the outbreak — dry up. Without a big injection of funds, advocates say, they could be forced to make drastic cuts in service — or go out of business.

An official with the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, an industry group, said that’s an outcome the state can ill afford among an estimated 65 rural hospitals in Michigan.

“We need all our hospital beds in all the places in Michigan,” Laura Appel of MHA told Bridge Magazine, referencing COVID-19. “That includes our rural areas. We cannot afford to have a single bed come off line now.”

Appel said “rural hospitals are telling us that if they do not get an influx of cash, their situation is dire. Their [cash] burn rate is huge.”

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