MON AM Update: Health care systems grappling with disruptive changes; UW Health CEO points to rising tensions under stay-at-home order

— Business leaders for health care systems in Wisconsin have seen disruptive changes due to the fallout of COVID-19, and are pursuing various ways to roll with the punches.  

Across the state, hospitals and health systems have been cutting workers and implementing other measures to mitigate the economic damage of COVID-19. Since these care providers have largely stopped any elective procedures, their bottom lines are expected to take a major hit. 

But at the same time, these entities must prepare for the possibility of a surge of COVID-19 patients. Balancing these concerns has been the goal of Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality office for UW Health in Madison. 

“I figured we’d have to postpone procedures because the volume of patients would be getting so high,” he said Friday during a webinar hosted by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. “We actually needed to postpone procedures to participate in social distancing. We couldn’t bring high-risk patients into our organization without a way to keep them socially distant.” 

Due to that consideration, UW Health has now postponed around 6,000 elective procedures, resulting in a 62 percent drop in operations, Pothof said. Meanwhile, patient volume in UW Health hospitals has fallen 45 percent. 

“When we ran that through our finance department, our expected revenue losses between March 15 and June 30 would have approached $400 million without any actions to mitigate that,” he said. 

See more: 

— While the COVID-19 curve in Wisconsin is flattening, UW Health’s CEO says tensions are rising about the economic impact of the state’s stay-at-home order and extension. 

“The governor knows and we all know that at some point, there’s a balance between keeping the society safe and the economy,” Dr. Alan Kaplan said Friday in a Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce webinar. “Just like one could say the infection itself is harmful, the impact of a bad economy causes morbidity and death.” 

Kaplan applauds the governor making tough decisions and his position of protecting the public with “Safer at Home.” 

“The problem is, when you do something like that proactively, you do it with good heart and people don’t get to see the results because people don’t know how many lives were saved,” he said. 

However, now people are feeling the economic impact of “Safer at Home” to which Kaplan says makes people highly critical of the order. He also said he doesn’t know if Evers “overshot” the order with his extension.

UW Health is feeling its own economic pains throughout the pandemic. The organization started postponing procedures in mid-March and lost $55 million by the end of the month. Without intervention, Kaplan said for April, May and June, UW Health expects to lose $100 million a month, ending the fiscal year with up to a $400 million loss. However, with federal aid in stimulus packages and cost cutting, that could improve to a $100 million-$200 million loss.

“I think what we ought to do is say that our elected officials are doing everything they can to keep us safe, and I applaud that,” he said. “There is no right decision; there are wrong decisions, and those wrong decisions result in a lot of deaths.”

Also during the GMCC webinar, Kaplan called on Wisconsin leaders to do two things. The first of which is to open the economy in a safe, gradual way.

“We can graduate quickly,” he said. “But I would say every two weeks we should up the ante as we learn what we’re doing is safe.”

And second, he’s calling on leaders to address the anxiety that the public has about the coronavirus and educate people on getting back into the economy safely.

“The uncertainty around the coronavirus and the fact that there’s no clear treatment or immunization has created a level of anxiety that even if you lift the Safer at Home order, people are not just going to start visiting restaurants,” he said. “Right now, the fear factor is going to stop a lot of people from visiting restaurants, when it could be done safely, or going to work.”

— Kaplan says that the COVID-19’s financial damage will force the healthcare industry to change and innovate in order to deliver healthcare after the pandemic.

“We’re not going to be able to return to normal operations very quickly, and I think we’re going to see some massive changes going to be financially driven,” he said. “Because the story I’m telling you is the pervasive story across the county: everybody is coming out in very negative territory, and the stimulus package, as big as it is, is barely touching a percentage of the losses.”

Kaplan predicts a swing towards telemedicine because physicians and patients are “loving it.” He projected a lift in regulation for the healthcare industry and an overall look at how healthcare can be delivered in a less expensive way.

“There’s never been that appetite or at least the economic drivers that never pushed us in that direction,” he said. “I think if people are innovative and thoughtful and real and accept the realities of what we’re facing, I think we’re going to come out of this with a much better health care system.”

— WEDC is changing its process for award review as COVID-19 adds uncertainty to numerous planned development projects. 

Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. chief Missy Hughes says the agency typically gets a “flood of applications” in mid-April for the coming fiscal year’s awards, including loans and grants. 

But this time around, she said WEDC has “adjusted away from some programs to try and create a pot of funds that we might deploy for COVID-19 relief.” Plus she said agency staff will apply a more rigorous standard for projects, as many might be derailed by the fallout of the virus. 

“Is that community really going to build that community center right now, or do we think that is going to be delayed? Is that business really going to take on opening a new warehouse or something like that?” she said during a board meeting last week. “All of those questions are valid.” 

She noted that many of these projects have been “in the wings” for a long time and are “pretty fully baked,” so quite a few have been approved to move forward. 

Still, she said “we have made a fair number of those where we’re stepping back and trying to institute that analysis, and be more thoughtful about it in order to keep some of those funds back.”  

See more from last week’s board meeting:

— Just over half of business leaders surveyed by the Wisconsin Technology Council expect Wisconsin’s economy to start recovering this summer or fall. 

Around 68 percent of respondents expect their own business to start recovering during that time, compared to 52 percent for the state’s economy and 43 percent for the national economy. 

A full 35 percent of respondents expect the U.S. economic rebound will take a year or more. 

The survey, which got responses from 111 individuals between April 16-23, asked respondents about workforce plans. Forty percent said their employment situation is “status quo,” while 19 percent are hiring more workers, 23 have stopped hiring and 18 percent are “laying off, furloughing or taking other interim steps to manage the size of their workforce,” according to a release. 

In recommendations to lawmakers, the Tech Council has called for a “science-based approach” to loosening stay-at-home restrictions. Respondents to the recent survey had mixed views on how businesses should be assisted during the crisis. 

Sixteen percent are calling for an immediate end to Gov. Tony Evers order, which is set to expire May 26. Fourteen percent said they need more U.S. Small Business Administration loans, while 8 percent called for state or federal tax relief. Five percent said they government regulatory relief to be successful in the coming months, and another 11 percent offered varied suggestions such as infrastructure investments and greater research funding. 

Most of the survey respondents are members or associates of the Tech Council Innovation Network, and all but four are based in Wisconsin. 

See the full results:

— The Department of Health Services reports state deaths from COVID-19 at 272 and cumulative confirmed cases at 5,911. 

Deaths increased by 10 and confirmed cases by 555 since Friday. 

According to the Badger Bounce Back plan, one of the goals to reach in order to reopen the state is a two-week decline in positive cases. 

With data provided from DHS, found that Wisconsin’s share of positive cases per number of total tests was on its second day of decline as of today. 

The numbers show 11.7 percent of total tests came back positive on Saturday, a jump from 8.9 percent on Friday, to 9.7 on Sunday. Today’s cases will be published this afternoon in the Health Care Report after DHS releases the latest numbers. 

If the percentage rises one day, the count starts over. However, Gov. Tony Evers indicated Thursday to reporters that if there are 14 days with decreasing positive cases and one day that is spiked, it could be disregarded as just “an anomaly.” 

Click here for coronavirus resources and information: 

— LeadingAge Wisconsin President and CEO John Sauer is highlighting the role of long-term care providers in fighting COVID-19 as they try to keep their vulnerable residents safe. 

“Both hospitals and LTC providers are working tirelessly to protect their patients and residents, particularly those who are elderly or suffer serious medical conditions and are at the highest risk of life-threatening illness should they become infected with COVID-19,” Sauer wrote in an op-ed distributed Friday. 

In the column, Sauer says he’s disheartened to see nursing homes and other group homes “come under negative scrutiny” due to outbreaks at their facilities. 

“These broad-brush reviews rarely tell the full story or, more importantly, reflect Wisconsin’s reality,” he argued. 

As of Friday, 627 of the state’s 5,356 cases were residents of long-term care facilities or other group housing. And at least 79 of those residents have died, according to numbers provided by the Department of Health Services last week. 

Sauer stresses that a facility with residents who’ve contracted COVID-19 “does not represent a failure, but in fact, it may better represent the courage of an organization to meet a community need.” 

Read the full column: 

See a recent story on how nursing and group home operators are responding to COVID-19: 


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– Report: Former Gov. Scott Walker says Wisconsin should reopen

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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Wisconsin Paper Council: Congratulates Sen. Bewley on being elected Senate Minority Leader

Citizen Action: Health professionals speak out against social distancing protests