February 25, 2021 – Hospitals are facing another setback as non-coronavirus hospital admissions drop yet again after months of recovery, according to a recent analysis.
Hospital admissions for reasons other than COVID-19 dropped to approximately 80 percent of predicted levels nationally by the week ending Dec. 5, 2020, Epic Health Research Network (EHRN) and Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reported in the analysis.
The recent decline in non-coronavirus hospital admissions follows a significant drop in overall admissions nationally last spring when the US hit the height of the pandemic. By mid-summer though, levels seemed to have recovered, with non-coronavirus admissions rebounding to 92 percent of predicted levels.
This new analysis updates those statistics based on electronic medical record data from Epic. The new analysis includes all inpatient hospital admission volumes from Dec. 31, 2017 to Dec. 5, 2020, involving patients who either were discharged or died as of January 13, 2021. EHRN aggregated data weekly and pooled from 34 healthcare organizations in the US, representing 97 hospitals across 26 states and 20 million patients.
Overall, total hospital admissions, including those because of COVID-19, fell to about 94 percent of predicted admissions by the week ending Dec. 5, 2020, and the decrease observed from Mar. 8 through Dec. 5, 2020, represented 8.5 percent of the total expected admissions for all of 2020.
The recent drop in admissions indicates that people may be delaying care, which could be a detriment to their long-term health, researchers explained in the analysis.
Additionally, the drop could have implications on hospital finances.
“This drop in admissions was not something that hospitals could have anticipated at the beginning of the year and the steep decline in admissions early in the pandemic may have been difficult for some hospitals to weather,” they stated.
“Smaller hospitals, public hospitals and rural hospitals are among those most likely to face financial challenges in the wake of revenue loss related to COVID-19. Some of these hospitals may be at risk of closing or merging if they do not have the financial resources to make up for declines in revenue caused by the declines in admissions shown in our data,” they continued in the analysis.
Hospital finance performance has been rocky over the last year, with operating margins, overall volumes, and revenue all experiencing significant reductions at some point during the period.
Most recently, healthcare consulting firm Kaufman Hall warned hospital and health system leaders that continued downward performance in January 2020 could suggest a long road ahead for financial recovery.
The federal government has provided hospitals, health systems, and other provider organizations with financial aid through the $178 billion Provider Relief Fund, EHRN and KFF researchers pointed out.
Hospitals qualified for grants that were at least two percent of their Medicare revenue and some facilities also received more targeted grants (e.g., distributions to safety-net hospitals, hospitals in COVID-19 hot spots).
There was about $26 billion left in Provider Relief Fund grants as of Feb. 3, 2021, the analysis uncovered using HHS data.
However, new rules specified by Congress in a COVID-19 relief bill signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020, are not clear on whether the remaining grants can be used by hospitals to offset revenue lost from the pandemic, including lower-than-expected hospital admissions.
At the same time, loan programs introduced during the pandemic, such as the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Programs, will soon call on provider organizations to pay back what they were advanced at the start of the pandemic despite persistently low volumes almost a year after the loan was taken out.
Hospitals received about $80 billion in loans through the Medicare programs, KFF reported.