Lockdown-hit hospital sector hopes for govt. support

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The COVID-19 lockdown imposed to curb the virus transmission has impacted every sector, and corporate hospitals are no exception.

Private hospitals are reeling under financial crunch due to a steep fall in revenue and at the same time, have incurred more expenses on measures to ensure physical distancing, purchase of personal protection kits and arrangement for isolation wards, separate accommodation for doctors and nurses attending patients and suspects. “The government asked private hospitals to be ready and allot isolation beds should there be a spike in cases beyond the capacity of government hospitals. The sector geared up to meet the challenge since saving lives is priority,” a private hospital head said.

Association of Health Care Providers of India has represented to the Finance Minister to help the sector by releasing about ₹2,000 crore dues for medical services rendered under the Central Government Health Scheme and Employees Health Scheme. Concessions on GST, in statutory payouts, subsidy on PPEs as hospitals were buying from the market, provision of rapid test kits to screen every healthcare provider and relaxation on import duties on medical equipment will give some leeway to improve cash flow to sustain for six months, say hospital managements.

From the beginning of the lockdown on March 25 till May 4, the government did not permit out-patient departments to function in hospitals due to strict lockdown guidelines. Instead, it allowed hospitals to offer telemedicine facilities for out-patients. Thus, the hospitals catered mainly to cases that came to the emergency room and few out-patients with chronic and serious health issues. All the elective surgeries had also been put on hold.

Chief of Medical Services of a corporate hospital said that with no out-patient, diagnostic services, international patients or elective surgeries, the in-patient occupancy has fallen across the country to about 25 to 30% during the lockdown.

Another corporate hospital said there was 60 to 65% impact on their topline revenues, but corporate hospitals paid full salaries to their employees, did not retrench staff, gave risk allowance to doctors, nurses and housekeeping staff attending COVID patients and suspects apart from extending insurance coverage of ₹50 lakh to medical staff.

Though the corporate hospitals had prepared themselves for the anticipated spike in number of COVID cases going by the trend in other countries, many feel the country has been lucky so far. “But we are ready to work with the government should the need arise,” a hospital chief said.

This pandemic is sparing the young, and the death rate is not alarming in Telangana or in the country. “Something is giving protection and fortunately, we may not see explosive numbers though the elderly, chronic patients with co-morbidities and those with compromised immunity are vulnerable to the virus with no vaccine and drugs found yet,” said a senior doctor.

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