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Hospitals Outline Pandemic Challenges in New HHS Report

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly strained the health care delivery system in the United States, hospitals report in a new publication from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.

Hospitals noted several challenges associated with the public health emergency, including:

  • Care Delivery: Hospitals reported barriers to meeting the needs of COVID-19 patients, erosion of trust in hospital staff, operational hurdles for rural hospitals, worsening disparities in access to care, and increased mental and behavioral health care needs;
  • Staffing: Hospitals confronted staff burnout as COVID-19 has increased workload, stress, and trauma among the health care workforce;
  • Vaccinations: Vaccine efforts have been well received by hospitals,  but unreliable distribution, insufficient supply, differing government guidelines and regulations, vaccine hesitancy, and difficulty reaching vulnerable populations are barriers to widespread vaccination;
  • Supplies: Hospitals report difficulty maintaining a proper supply of personal protective equipment; and
  • Finances: Operational costs continue to rise while revenue declines.

In the report, hospitals noted several ways the government can help mitigate these issues, such as:

  • providing additional guidance on testing, treatment, and infection control;
  • emphasizing and supporting underserved communities, along with promoting permanent telehealth flexibility and emergency waivers;
  • supporting recruitment and retention of health care workers, especially for mental health care providers, nurses, and respiratory specialists;
  • promoting vaccinations, educating on social distancing, and promoting hospital trust;
  • allowing hospitals to spend recovery and relief dollars to complete projects, like improvements and expansions, and ensuring adequate telehealth reimbursement; and
  • simplifying COVID-19 data collection, streamlining coordination, and facilitating connections between all parts of the health care system.

Looking ahead, hospitals emphasized working under “survival mode” conditions for an extended period creates serious challenges. Many hospitals hope to see continued government support of their efforts to improve care quality during the pandemic and beyond, including through systemic changes to address disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 and build a stronger public health infrastructure.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at  eomalley@essentialhospitals.org or 202.585.0127 with questions.

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About the Author

Abigail Painchaud is a policy associate at America's Essential Hospitals.

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