MURRAY — Murray-Calloway County Hospital CEO Jerry Penner was no doubt encouraged Wednesday with numbers that show the hospital made a strong recovery during the month of June after COVID-19 sent it into a tailspin from March through May.
In fact, as hospital Chief Financial Officer John Bradford put it, the hospital “had what is most likely our very best financial month ever,” generating a whopping $9.7 million in net income. However, both were quick to discuss that a lot of this was from two things.
First, the hospital received a timely $5 million from the CARES stimulus package Congress approved in the spring for assistance with the pandemic. Another $4 million came from the hospital being one of 58 Kentucky facilities to benefit from a lawsuit that they had been underpaid for reimbursements from 2007-15.
“A $9 million month doesn’t happen very often, but we had one,” Penner said during Wednesday afternoon’s monthly meeting of the Murray-Calloway County Public Hospital Corporation Board of Trustees. It was earlier in the meeting that Penner asked Bradford, upon completion of his report, if July was looking similar, to which Bradford replied no.
Penner said he already knew that.
“I asked that one jokingly because reality is we’re not going to have money just pouring out of the sky and trying to help out hospitals,” he said. “This is not a sprint, it is a marathon.”
Even with the report being perhaps the most positive he has given in his time as CFO, Bradford did note that volumes of hospital clinics and departments, while better in June, still are lagging behind last year. That is because patients are still somewhat nervous about going to a medical facility of any kind during the middle of a global pandemic, he said.
“We are still about 10% below where we were pre-virus,” he said, remembering that March was headed toward being a record month for the hospital revenue wise before going into a free fall when the pandemic struck, causing numerous hospital-run facilities to close in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
That was followed by April, “our worst month ever,” he said.
However, it must be known that these figures are about finances. And while those have suffered, Penner said Wednesday that, up until now, the part with which COVID-19 is most associated, strain on the facilities’ ability to care for coronavirus patients, has not been a problem so far at MCCH.
However, there are signs of trouble that have been looming the past few weeks, particular the past few days. Calloway County’s case numbers have soared, increasing by more than 80 since the beginning of June, which was a time when the virus was seemingly under control.
Then, the county had a little less than 50 cases, had no residents hospitalized and had only three patients isolated at home. New numbers from the Calloway County Health Department Wednesday show that the county is now just shy of 140 cases with two people hospitalized and 17 isolated at home.
In addition, two Calloway residents have died this week alone, bringing the total number for the pandemic to three.
However, Penner said the actual numbers of the hospital alone are even higher, with 231 people having tested positive, which is a figure that does not just include Murray and Calloway County.
“You see, what people don’t understand is we cover a larger area,” Penner said of how positive cases have been confirmed at MCCH testing places for patients in Graves, Trigg, Marshall and McCracken counties in Kentucky, as well as Henry County, Tennessee. “Murray-Calloway has also been involved with 23 admissions with COVID so far and four of those have gone to the ICU.
“The health department has reported three deaths so far, but those did not occur here at the hospital. Our total numbers, though, are actually six deaths here at the hospital (all to residents not from Calloway County).”
Those numbers have risen in the past few weeks and Penner, knowing the meeting had a Facebook Live audience of people from throughout the region Wednesday, chose to speak directly to those viewers.
One of the first things he addressed is a belief by many nationwide that the number of cases are increasing because of increased testing.
“Here’s the thing, we’re now seeing more people showing up with symptoms, who are actually sick. That’s the difference,” he said. “Earlier, yeah, we were getting a lot of people who were coming in to see if they needed to be tested, who didn’t have symptoms. Now, with so many more coming in with symptoms, it kind of goes against the observations that the reason we’re seeing more cases is because we’re having more testing.”
Penner also gave an idea of how much effort is required to make sure the virus does not spread through the hospital. He said that once a COVID-19 patient has entered the emergency department at MCCH, the room is left alone for 40 minutes because that gives any droplets of the virus time to settle. Then, cleaning personnel sterilize the room, a process that takes more than an hour in most cases.
Penner also reported that, so far, hospital personnel seem to have remained protected, with no one actually contracting the virus, while 28 have undergone precautionary quarantine and another three are currently on leave because they have high-risk health conditions that could make them susceptible to the virus.
Then Penner, in calm but firm fashion, addressed the Facebook audience one final time.
“We’re getting more positives, so you really need to pay attention right now,” he said. “It probably would not be a bad idea to wear those masks … because it’s the right thing to do. You also need to stay out of crowds.
“When you can spread out, that’s great, but your problems are going to come from getting into these large crowds out there and that’s really important for the next several weeks because we’ve got some very emotional issues going on, such as the opening of schools and the reopening of Murray State. Those have the potential to bring more positives to our community. So we need to be extra vigilant.
“It’s not college students and the younger kids that are going to get this, although we’re seeing more that are, but it’s still going to be contact with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s that are going to have the biggest problems. One to two percent of the people are the ones that are going to be impacted very gravely, and if you don’t take steps to keep that from happening, you will overrun this hospital.”