Hospitals get $40M of CT’s federal pandemic relief fund

Cloe Poisson ::

Bristol Hospital.

Gov. Ned Lamont assigned $40 million of Connecticut’s emergency pandemic relief from Washington, D.C., on Thursday to aid hospitals — a move that drew praise from the industry yet was far less than hospitals had sought.

Coupled with $980 million in direct federal coronavirus-related aid that hospitals already received, the latest grant means more than $1 billion in support for an industry that projected about $1.4 billion in losses last summer.

“This funding recognizes the front-line role Connecticut’s hospitals and their dedicated employees have played throughout this pandemic,” Lamont said. “It is not an overstatement to say that this role has been heroic and continues to be indispensable as we all work together to defeat the virus.”

The governor praised the industry for adapting infection control measures and suspending many elective surgeries last spring and summer to help contain the highly contagious virus.

Most hospitals were projecting sizable financial losses last summer. Besides losing millions of dollars in revenue from delaying non-essential surgical procedures, the industry faced added expenses tied to protective gear, enhanced cleaning programs and temporary facilities to house added beds.

The Connecticut Hospital Association asked Lamont last July for $450 million from the $1.34 billion, federal Coronavirus Relief Fund grant to cover its projected losses.

Lamont quickly dismissed any chances of an allocation that large, instead saying he hoped to give the industry $100 million but still had to juggle many other pressing needs.

The governor’s budget office also has dedicated major portions of the relief fund to COVID-19 testing, nursing homes, nonprofit social services and increased supplies of protective gear. In addition to the principal $40 million grant for hospitals, the state also has used the CRF to channel nearly $27 million to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Besides direct public health initiatives, the state also has used federal funds to help local school districts reopen this fall, refund student fees after public universities closed campuses last spring, aid struggling municipalities and businesses, accelerate processing of unemployment claims and expand housing and rental assistance

But Melissa McCaw, Lamont’s budget director, said administration officials always planned to reserve a portion of the relief funding for hospitals. The grant program, which was negotiated with the industry, distributes funds based on the COVID-related expenses of each facility.

Jennifer Jackson, CEO of the Connecticut Hospital Association, called the $40 million authorized by the administration “much needed financial assistance [that] will help keep our hospitals strong.”

The CHA leader added that programs such as expanded critical care to meet unprecedented patient needs, promoting public education about the coronavirus, and accelerating the dissemination of vaccines have not come without a price.

“These extraordinary actions have also come at extraordinary expense, resulting in historic financial losses,” she said. “The partnership with the state has been important to hospitals’ ability to respond so effectively to the pandemic.”

Hospitals must report eligible COVID-19 related costs to the state Department of Social Services and will receive reimbursements on a weekly basis.

Facilities also must dedicate at least 15% of their relief aid to eligible physician groups or ambulatory surgical centers that are enrolled in Connecticut’s Medicaid program and are formally affiliated with a  hospital.