The COVID-19 pandemic has put an unprecedented clinical and financial strain on rural hospitals across the country. North Arkansas Regional Medical Center (NARMC) is not immune to this situation.
Rural hospitals operate on razor thin margins mostly due to the chronic underfunding from Medicare and Medicaid. Most of the margin for rural hospitals comes from elective services such as surgery, lab and imaging. In order to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) directed that all elective procedures in hospitals be postponed. There are two reasons for this action, first, to reduce the spread of COVID 19 through close contact and second to preserve Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers who care for those who are infected. This action effectively eliminated the revenue stream that pays the bills.
NARMC has complied with the request from the U.S. Surgeon General and Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS). As a result, the hospital system has experienced a significant reduction in business while taking specific steps to meet the needs of our community. Examples include the Viral Testing Clinic at the NARMC Medical Plaza, the Incident Command Center and increased purchases of the necessary PPE supplies. These actions have placed an extra financial burden on NARMC. Each week, cash reserves are used to support the organization’s needs.
Staffing is one of the most expensive costs the organization incurs. Several NARMC team members have already chosen to cut back on their hours or take vacation days due to cancelled patient services and appointments. NARMC has to respond to these difficult financial challenges and make decisions for a sustainable future.
As a result of these outside pressures, NARMC leadership has made the difficult decision to furlough about 35 employees. The staff members will continue to be eligible for health benefits and can utilize their paid leave bank during this period. Employees impacted are from support departments. This decision to temporarily reduce staff will not affect direct patient care.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put significant stress on healthcare delivery across the country and in hospitals across the state of Arkansas, forcing us to take action,” NARMC President and CEO Vince Leist said. “With increased cost of operation due to the pandemic and the loss of our elective revenue stream, we have no choice but to make changes in our organization. We value our team members and regret that we have to make this difficult decision. While we anticipate assistance from State and Federal sources, we must make decisions on the information we have. NARMC will continue to monitor the impact COVID-19 has on the healthcare system and will make changes when necessary to ensure the community has access to quality care for years to come.”
NARMC is an innovative, non-profit healthcare system consisting of a central hospital in Harrison, Arkansas, and 18 clinics serving the rural communities of North Arkansas. More than 850 NARMC employees work together to provide a comprehensive range of healthcare services. As one of the Top 100 Rural Hospitals in the nation according to the Rural Health Policy Institute, NARMC has earned numerous 5-Star ratings from Healthgrades and consistently ranks high in patient satisfaction in Press Ganey ratings. A two-time recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Quality Achievement Award, NARMC is committed to providing the best in care, close to home.