UT Health Carthage CEO Mark Leitner spoke to the Panola County Commissioners Court Tuesday to ask for help with expenses incurred related to COVID-19.
Leitner stood before the court and told them about how, during the COVID surge from November to February, the state ramped up assistance and gave them just about everything they needed. However, when cases started jumping again about six weeks ago, the state told them they couldn’t provide the same type of assistance.
“So what happened between those two periods of time, the first spike and now, is that the state pulled those staffing resources out from the hospital, which started a bidding war actually amongst hospitals and healthcare systems across the country really, and nurses were moving away for bonuses of $10-20,000. It was becoming very competitive,” Leitner said.
“So we were actually heading into this most recent spike with very limited resources. We were short staffed, we had a lot of vacancies, a lot of openings, and then all of a sudden we get hit with this. We have gone to added expense to bring in agency nurses, contract nurses. These nurses typically get paid premium rates for what they do for obvious reasons. But we were continuing to lose staff, so then we turned around and we essentially provided to our staff at the hospital premium pay. So whatever their hourly rate, be it $35 to 40, we had $20 to 25 to that to basically receive a commitment for them to stay for an eight-week period, which we’re about four weeks through at this point.”
Because of this, the hospital is incurring some incredible costs, Leitner said. He said they lobbied the state extensively for more assistance and were declined.
“Now, as a footnote, they have come back and provided some staffing, and they’re just now ramping that up, but at the time they told us ‘we can’t do what we did last time,’” Leitner said, saying the state told them to ask their cities and counties for relief through the American Rescue Plan funds they receive.
Leitner provided a small packet to commissioners with information catalogued about COVID numbers and their expenses. The hospital needs $499,000.
“That’s built on the premium pay expenditures and the supplies, personal protective equipment and other expenses,” he said. “So that’s basically what leads to that request of $499,000. Now we’re not requesting $499 totally from Panola County. I think if you go back and just simple math, if you do it proportionate to the funding that’s received by the City of Carthage and Panola County, it would actually be $369,000.”
The hospital is facing a lot right now, Leitner said.
“As bad as it seems, last winter, as much attention as there was on the healthcare facilities within the community, this is three times as bad, and there’s really not the focus that we saw last winter on the healthcare faculties,” he said. “We are seeing patients in the hospital that we can’t move. We can’t move them to Tyler; we can’t move them to Longview; we can’t move them to Shreveport. We’re happy to provide a level of care in our hospital that probably hasn’t been provided in decades. No beds anywhere, and we just can’t move them. Tyler will shut down completely, no ICU beds, no ventilators. It’s everything you heard on the news about New Jersey, New York, those areas right here right now. It’s pretty rough.”
The court was not able to make a decision in terms of funding because they currently do not have a budget allocated for any of the $4 million in COVID stimulus they have been allocated, court officials said. The topic was tabled until their Sept. 28 meeting.