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Commissioners Court considers allocating relief dollars to Baylor Scott & White

Monday, July 13, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Baylor Scott & White Health is the largest not-for-profit hospital system in the state of Texas, and like many other businesses, it has been footing the bill for unanticipated Covid-19 related expenses since March. Jay Fox, the president of Baylor Scott & White Health of the Austin/Round Rock region, estimates that by December the regional system will spend $4.3 million on pandemic-related expenses for clinics in Travis County that are outside the Austin city limits.

To help ease the financial burden, the health care system is requesting that Travis County allocate $810,000 from its federal Covid-19 relief fund for expenses incurred by the hospital between March and May. The Commissioners Court took no action on the request at its July 7 meeting except to announce that further discussion on the proposal will reappear on the agenda in two weeks.

Ann-Marie Price, the director of community development at Baylor Scott & White, called the financial loss to the hospital system “overwhelming,” adding, “we’ve never seen anything like this before, at least in our lifetimes.” The Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to cost the nation’s hospital systems a total of $323.1 billion, according to American Hospital Association data cited by Price.

She explained that the sustained financial losses at Baylor Scott & White are due to a combination of expenses like personal protective equipment and drive-thru screening efforts combined with a loss of patients due to the state’s prohibition on elective surgery. According to Fox, this prohibition reduced the hospitals’ volume of elective surgery patients by 70 percent.

In order to meet the full financial need that the hospital system is racking up, Marisa Finley, the vice president of the hospital’s Center for Healthcare Policy, told commissioners that Baylor has submitted similar proposals for reimbursement to surrounding municipal governments, including the city of Austin. She noted that the proposals are designed to avoid duplicating requests for reimbursement, which is prohibited for financial assistance requests made through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.

While the proposal identified $4.3 million as the total need for Baylor Scott & White, Price explained that the figure is an estimate. She said that the accounting on actual spending is performed daily and the health care conglomerate will have a more accurate snapshot of financial need in the coming months.

Finley said that while both public and private hospitals are eligible for funding, the government requires them to apply through municipalities to receive cash assistance.

Commissioner Brigid Shea called it “patently unfair” that the hospital system must apply through local governments to receive funding rather than taking its request directly to the state. Travis County has $61.1 million in coronavirus relief funding to distribute and has already allocated $27.3 million. The county is parsing through the remaining $33.8 million with its third-party contractor, Guidehouse, and staffers will present a prioritized list of projects and programs that the contractor has identified for funding on Tuesday.

Shea noted that if the Commissioners Court awards funds to Baylor Scott & White, “you’re not the only hospital system in Travis County that will come knocking on our door asking for money.”

Nevertheless, the commissioners will consider the request. “This pandemic has decimated everybody because the needs are so great,” said Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. “I certainly don’t mind you asking (for the relief funding).”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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