Alabama hospitals struggle with money, staffing and more

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 3:48 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Alabama hospitals are stressed with both financial and workforce issues, and they have been for years. The pandemic is not the cause of these issues, but it magnified for severity of the struggle’s healthcare workers face each day in the state, according to Dr. Don Williamson.

Dr. Williamson is the president and CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association. He said right now Alabama is dealing with the challenges of 800 million dollars of unreimbursed personnel costs from COVID, reimbursement issues with Medicaid, an issue with the high uninsured population, and the list goes on.

Dr. Williamson was in Dothan on Tuesday to shed light on the battles statewide healthcare facilities fight each day.

“We are still a long way from recovering from COVID and the impact that had on our healthcare system,” Dr. Williamson said.

Right now, hospitals are still short-staffed. There has been improvement since the peak of the pandemic, but not enough.

“We still have hospitals with units that are closed,” Dr. Williamson said. “Salaries remain higher than they were before the pandemic, financially we are in more gray difficulty than we were before the pandemic.”

These struggles are concerning healthcare workers and experts. Dr. Williamson references a study conducted by the federal government that shows alarming numbers of rural hospitals on the brink of closing in Alabama.

“They (the study) estimated about that 60 percent of our rural hospitals were in danger of closing,” Dr. Williamson said. “But more importantly they identified that about 15 in Alabama were in danger of immediate closure.”

Dr. Williamson said if this happens it will affect everyone.

“What we learned during COVID is that we have to have both rural hospitals and urban hospitals,” Dr. Williamson said. “Urban hospitals are there to take care of patients who need more advanced care, but they get overloaded and if it were not for the rural hospitals taking care of the patients that they can take care of, then the urban hospitals would be absolutely overwhelmed and would not be able to provide the level of care they need to for the people that they currently have in.”

He said losing these rural hospitals will directly affect the urban hospitals both in terms of timeliness of being able to provide care and seeing an influx in uninsured individuals.

So, what can be done to save these facilities? Dr. Williamson said there are no simple answers, but here is what he suggests.

“One of the most important things we can do is to close the coverage gap which involved expanding Medicaid,” Dr. Williamson said.

He emphasized there are 200,000 people in Alabama who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid or are never going to be eligible, but make too little to qualify for a marketplace plan.

“And those are individuals who are generally working they’re trying to provide for their families, and we need to do something to close that gap, so they get earlier access to healthcare, they have better health outcomes, and it helps keep hospitals that are now struggling keeps them in the game and able to provide care to their citizens,” Dr. Williamson said.

Other solutions he suggests are increase the use of LPN’s and medical assistants in bedside care and maximize the nursing pipeline.

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