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Digging Deeper: Postponing elective procedures shatter health care budgets

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Most rural hospitals are already strapped financially but COVID-19 is creating even more challenges for them.

The virus forced providers to postpone ‘elective procedures’ also known as non-emergency surgeries which is a major portion of their revenue. 

Now, several hospitals, especially rural ones, have anxiety if and when they can recover after these services were postponed for nearly 3 months.

"The financial losses are real and it's going to take a couple of years make up the losses," said Tim Size, Executive Director of Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative.

The organization serves over 40 rural hospitals and Size said almost all rely heavily on these surgeries to pay the bills.

"Rural and urban shutting down their elective services means they lost 40-60% of their revenue."

For Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville, that number is even higher making up about 70% of their surgical budget. Karl Pustina, Vice President of Finance for Upland Hills, said on average these procedures can cost anywhere from $30,000 - $50,000.  

"It's difficult especially when you take care of the community as the finance person my job is to help others get the resources,” said Pustina.

In April, Upland Hills saw a 50% drop in revenue according to Pustina. While things are starting to improve they still have to make up those losses which included cutting hours and issuing furloughs. 

"When your hours are cut that's heartfelt in this organization where we are a family and it's a big issue when people have their pocketbooks hit," he said.

Hospitals are now starting to roll back elective procedures and Pustina said they will recover but it could take months.

"(It also) depends on what happens with COVID in the fall and winter and what changes will have to make.”

Many hospitals did receive federal funding through the CARES ACT to help offset their losses but officials are banking on services picking up as providers continue to reopen.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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