One of the primary reasons elected officials and epidemiologists gave for shutting down the U.S. economy and forcing millions of Americans to remain in their homes was to save the health care system—that is, to keep it from being overwhelmed when COVID-19 cases exploded.
And yet we see these recent headlines:
- Tenet Healthcare furloughs 3,400 hospital workers;
- Mayo Clinic cutting pay for more than 20,000 workers; and
- 150 hospitals furloughing workers in response to COVID-19.
Wait, how can hospitals be overwhelmed AND be forced to lay off health care providers?
It is true that some hospitals—especially those at the epicenter of the COVID-19 battle, like New York City, New Jersey, Chicago, Seattle and New Orleans—have been slammed. But there are some 6,000 hospitals across the country, and most are able to handle their COVID-19 cases, if they even have any.
Now, many of those hospitals—as well as thousands of clinics and doctors' offices—are struggling to stay afloat.
That’s because our political leaders prohibited most medical procedures, including elective surgeries. That action may have relieved the health care strain in some areas, but it has caused strains in others.
The Wall Street Journal reports, “Some doctors are pausing chemotherapy treatments for less aggressive cancers due to government recommendations but also to avoid suppressing patient immune systems. Preventive screenings including mammograms, colonoscopies and melanoma checks have been cancelled.”
The Journal also highlights some of the negative impacts. “It’s impossible to forecast the human cost from this suspension of care. Aggressive cancers may go undetected. Chronic conditions that have been controlled with regular check-ups and medicines may worsen.”
And it’s not just physical health issues. Those with mental health challenges are also suffering from the shutdown. Dallas-Fort Worth’s CBS Channel 11 points out that the Texas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports a 300 percent increase in their helpline calls for March and April.
The irony is the lockdown was imposed to keep people healthy and reduce the strain on the health care system. And yet millions of non-COVID-19 patients may be seeing their health conditions worsen, while hospitals and doctors’ offices are largely empty and struggling to stay open.
The good news is that several governors are beginning to reopen their state economies, including allowing some elective surgeries and other medical care.
President Trump, in referring to the economic impact of the shutdown, has warned that “the cure can’t be worse than the disease.” A concern that should also apply to the health care system.