Hospital Leader Says Fla.’s Hospitals Haven’t Received Fair Share of CARES Act Money

Aug 13, 2020

The CEO of an association of Florida’s nonprofit hospitals - including two in Jacksonville - is calling for the federal government to treat the state fairly when allocating the rest of its $175 billion in CARES Act funding designated to the nation’s hospitals.

“Florida has not been treated as well as other states, on average,” said Justin Senior, the CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida (SNHAF). “[The state] has not received as much per capita, has not received as much per hospital bed, has not received as much per COVID-19 case, as other states, and certainly nowhere near as much as the Northeast.”

Senior said of the $175 billion, $50 billion remains, and hopes a sizable chunk of that money would flow into the Sunshine State’s hospital systems. 

“Florida's roughly 7% of the U.S. population, and did it receive 7% of the CARES funding for hospitals and health systems? The answer to that is: no, it didn't. It received about 4%,” Senior said during a Thursday morning news conference with reporters.

The SNHAF is an association with 14 hospital systems throughout the state. UF Health Jacksonville and Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside are both represented by the organization.

Data supplied by the SNHAF shows that Florida has received roughly $622 million in CARES Act funding for its hospital systems. That number is on par with Louisiana, which  so far has received $623 million, and trails states with fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths, such as Georgia ($637 million), Virginia ($658 million), and Pennsylvania ($1 billion).   

Senior said because their member hospital systems haven’t been properly funded during the pandemic, it’s resulted in $1-2 billion in revenue losses, and between $6-10 billion for all hospitals in the state.

He also said that because SNHAF’s hospitals are nonprofits and serve anyone, despite a  person’s ability to pay, they’ve seen a bulk of the state’s COVID-19 patients. “I would say over 40%, maybe even approaching 50% of the COVID patients in the state,” Senior said. 

A lot of the revenue lost comes from the discontinuation of elective surgeries in March, according to Senior, which has resulted in layoffs and pay cuts. 

“In a pandemic, it is not consistent with preparedness, it is not consistent with readiness, to be laying staff off,” Senior said. “And it's not consistent with preparedness or readiness to be giving people mandatory pay cuts.”

Senior said Florida isn’t getting money because portions of the money doled out by the federal government has specific guidelines that he believes are supposed to make the process simple, but are instead leaving hospitals out of much-needed funding. 

“They actually designed a hotspot, what they called a COVID-hotspot tranche,” Senior said. “It was worth about $20 billion total that would go to hospitals that serve COVID patients and would be based on the number of COVID patients they saw between January 1 and June 10. So when they cut it off on June 10th, they missed this entire second wave of hospitalizations.”

The federal government also created another multi-billion dollar tranche for what they considered safety net hospitals, but several of the SNHAF members didn’t qualify for that either, due to profit margins Senior said they pulled from unaudited worksheets. 

“That's a pitfall that caught academic medical centers all across the nation. It was very frustrating,” said Lindy Kennedy, President and COO of the SNHAF. 

In UF Health Jacksonville’s case, Senior said it was able to qualify for the safety net funding, and it is close to covering its losses. 

Ascension St. Vincent Riverside, on the other hand, was unable to do so, meaning it’s in a tougher financial situation. 

Senior said similar situations are happening in California and Texas. 

A timeline hasn’t been announced for when the next bundle of $50 billion in federal CARES money will be released for hospitals. 

Senior suggests altering the guidelines that prevented money from going to these hospital systems, and that hospitalizations after June 10 will be considered when picking areas where the most money needs to go. 

“We just want to be treated fairly,” Senior said.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.