Local Hospitals Forced to Make Cuts as Beds Sit Empty

Clovis Community Medical Center is located on 2755 Herndon Ave at the corner of Herndon and Temperance Avenues. (CR Photo)

Cancelation of elective surgeries, fear of going to the emergency room and anxiety over being separated from loved ones are just some of the reasons hospitals across Fresno County are seeing fewer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California’s shelter-in-place policy went into effect March 20 with the goal of keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

As of May 12, there have been 984 cases of COVID-19 in Fresno County. 53 of those cases are from Clovis. Only 140 of the patients were ever hospitalized.

Fresno County isn’t alone. Hospitals across the country are reporting empty beds.

According to an April 26 article from USA TODAY, experts fear that hospitals, especially in rural communities could close this year as a result of lost revenue due to the coronavirus.

The USA TODAY reports that more than 800 hospitals across the United States were already in financial trouble before the pandemic. The article sites a 2017 financial report submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that says 57 percent of rural hospitals and 40 percent of urban hospitals only have enough cash on hand to cover their salary costs for at least a month.

Now many are laying off staff, furloughing workers or cutting employees hours to stay afloat.

Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno furloughed 175 hospital workers in late April.

“Various positions from across the hospital were impacted,” said Kelly Sanchez, Director of Corporate Communications, in an email to the Clovis Roundup. “Our decision to furlough colleagues, while not easy, was necessary to ensure that we remain financially viable so we can continue to meet the needs of our patients and community now and long after this pandemic ends.”

Saint Agnes Medical Centers says the furloughs are intended to last eight weeks.

One furloughed employee, the Clovis Roundup spoke to, said they hadn’t been scheduled to work since mid-March. They said they were grateful to have had money saved up and knew that other employees were having a hard time making ends meet.

Some employees with Community Medical Centers are also reporting that they are working fewer hours. The Clovis Roundup spoke with hospital workers that said their hours had been cut by 20 percent. Others reported being asked to use paid-time off.

Carla Milton, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer with Community Medical Centers said in a statement to the Clovis Roundup, “Our employees are our top priority. During this unprecedented time, Community Medical Centers remains fully staffed with normal adjustments made for lower patient volumes. Should there be a surge in patients from our area or outside it, our team stands ready to ensure all areas of our hospitals are staffed to meet the needs of our patients during the COVID-19 crisis.  CMC does not employ physicians and as such would not furlough them.”

The Clovis Roundup reached out to Valley Children’s Hospital to see if employees were also working fewer hours. They had no comment, but did say they were not furloughing any workers.

Kaiser Permanente also told the Clovis Roundup that as of April 30th they had not issued any furloughs.

They also noted that they had expanded their telehealth program to allow physicians to remain connected to patients while observing social distance.

Every hospital that the Clovis Roundup spoke with stressed that it was safe to seek emergency medical care at their facilities.

“Consistent with the national trend, we have experienced a decline by more than half in Emergency Department visits during the shelter in place ordinances,” said Kerri Leedy, Public Relations and Media Manager for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. “Kaiser Permanente emergency departments remain fully open, available, and safe for those who need to receive care during this pandemic. We are always open for those who need care for serious conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, and appendicitis. People in need of emergency care should not avoid or delay it.”

Dr. Jim Comes, the Chief of Emergency Medicine for Community Regional Medical Center also stressed not putting off seeking urgent care.

“As a physician working on the frontlines at Community Regional Medical Center I assure you it is safe to come to our emergency department,” Comes said. “Don’t put off care for serious ailments and seek care for urgent issues.”

Sarah Soghomonian
Sarah Soghomonian is an Emmy Award winning journalist who has been telling the stories of the unique people and places of the Central Valley for nearly 15 years. She's a graduate of Fresno State's Mass Communications and Journalism Department and has worked at CBS47 and ValleyPBS. In addition to her work as a television producer, Sarah is a freelance journalist who's articles have appeared in many local newspapers and publications. A lifelong Valley resident, Sarah loves her community and wants to do her part to make it a better place. Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/SarahValleyTV/?ref=bookmarks