New Mexico hospitals face massive revenue losses, many primary care services struggling

        

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- New Mexico hospitals continue to push forward despite losing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue during the pandemic.

Some state lawmakers got a presentation from various health workers and officials on Wednesday, outlining the latest numbers and pointing out some issues the field is facing. Three of the many topics discussed in the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee virtual meeting were funding, layoffs and primary care services.

New Mexico leaders have talked about a lack of funding for health care groups throughout the pandemic, and new numbers show just how big of a hole the state is in. Hospitals in the state have lost more than half a billion dollars in revenue--$519 million. New Mexico Hospital Association leaders explained that it's due to increased expenses, lost functions (like canceled appointments) and other factors.

Federal and grant funding has given a $367 million boost to state groups, but that doesn't offset the losses, leaving a collective net deficit of $152 million. Plus, state health leaders say health groups can't always use 100% of what they receive from the federal government because of the stipulations attached.

Lawmakers said the losses are surprising and concerning.

'It's really worrisome,' said Rep. Liz Thomson, (D- District 24), who is a health care worker herself.

Amid huge losses in the economy statewide, lawmakers left wondering what else they can do.

'I would say there's not a lot. We can't print our own money,' Thomson said. 'If we need to put more money into keeping our hospitals open, then we're going to have to take it from public safety. We're going to have to take it from education. There are no easy answers.'

Lawmakers say there are tough choices all the way around when it comes to the budget, and the state just doesn't have the money to give a whole lot more to hospitals

'The next legislative session is going to be one in which we are being pressured to balance a budget with very little money available,' said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, (D-District 12).

Lawmakers are trying to persuade the federal government to send more money New Mexico's way.

On the topic of layoffs, KOB 4 has received many questions. There were cuts early in the pandemic, but our state's largest health groups say all caregivers are working right now.

A Lovelace Health System spokesperson said it is, 'appropriately staffed and confident in our capabilities to provide safe quality patient care.' It has no layoffs right now.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services President and CEO Dale Maxwell said the group, 'like health care organizations across the state and country, has experienced significant financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.'

'Since the start of the pandemic in early March, all employees have received a paycheck at pre-COVID-19 levels despite significant revenue decline. We've also continued to hire additional nurses and caregivers so we remain prepared to meet COVID-19 surges in the coming months,' Maxwell said.

A UNM Health Sciences spokesperson said it, 'has been committed to not laying off or furloughing employees during this pandemic. At this point, we do not anticipate laying off or furloughing employees and continue to do all we can to support employees.'

Primary care providers, and other small groups, private groups and offices that do not handle COVID patients are hurting, particularly in rural areas.

One state official said Wednesday that many are facing layoffs and some may have to close for good.

'The COVID impact has been not only on our finances but on our workers. We experienced a situation here where our sole pharmacist in the county was exposed to COVID,' said Christina Campos, hospital administrator at Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa.

New Mexico already had a primary care shortage before the pandemic started, so the new struggles mean even worse health care access for many--at the worst time.