MarinHealth CEO talks effects of coronavirus pandemic
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May 25 print edition of the Business Journal.
MarinHealth Medical Center, known until last summer as Marin General Hospital, has been treating COVID-19 patients since February. Though levels of virus-related activity haven’t reached crisis levels, the hospital remains prepared for the unforeseen and is once again accepting patients for surgeries and procedures. The Business Journal spoke with CEO Lee Domanico on May 18. He stressed the hospital is safe for the public, addressed the financial impact the hospital has faced from the pandemic and spoke about the future.
How is MarinHealth Medical Center doing these days?
For the last 2½ to 3 weeks, we have been waking the hospital back up, so to speak, and starting to do elective surgeries and procedures.
We’re up about 75% of where we were back in early March. So, it’s very important because starting in the middle of March, we eliminated or stopped performing all elective surgeries and procedures. That served to reduce our inpatient census by about 40% and reduced our revenue for the month of March by (about) 20%, and then by close to 40% in April.
I suspect that our numbers for May will be similar to March as we’re ramping back up.
Essentially, we freed up capacity so that if we did get a surge in COVID-19 patients, we would have beds for them. The good news is we never got the surge. The bad news is our hospital ran nearly half empty for a period of a couple of months. That’s going to hurt financially, as with all hospitals.
What does the hospital’s finances look like at this point in the pandemic?
We have received thus far about $7.5 million in stimulus money from the federal government, but I can tell you that’s less than 20% of what our losses will be for sure. If we can get back to full volume by July, we still will have lost $35 million to $40 million. We’re hoping the federal and state government comes in with more help for hospitals.
What has been the broader impact from COVID-19 to MarinHealth Medical Center?
There was no federal coordination of the response with this international pandemic. And as a result, every hospital was competing with every other hospital - and even with state government and, ultimately, with the federal government - to buy PPE.
Marin General was by itself as a freestanding hospital, competing with these large, billion-dollar corporations to find masks, testing kits, face shields and the like.
We were competing with 5,000 other hospitals, and I have to say we did very well. We found a contact, through our physician community, to China that allowed us to acquire N95 masks. We found a local 3D printer who began manufacturing face shields for us, and I think we were probably (one of) the first hospitals to have Cepheid testing kits. (Editor’s note: Sunnyvale-based Cepheid manufactured a test kit with technology that provides results in about an hour.)
We ordered these before the company got FDA approval, and of course once they got FDA approval, everybody was trying to buy them, but we were near the front of the line.
Do you have any COVID-19 patients right now?
Yes, as of (May 18), we had four. None were on ventilators, none were in the ICU. They were on the general floor, which means they’re sick enough to be in the hospital, but they did not need intensive care, which is good.
What we’re concerned about now is that people are staying home who might need to see a physician -for example, with chronic heart disease or diabetes - because they’re afraid that we’re not safe. We are safe. We follow very strict protocols to keep our staff and our patients safe. We don’t want people to put-off care that might seem like it’s not urgent. It will become urgent, if postponed for too long.
How much was spent to acquire the equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients?
In addition to emptying out the hospital to make room, we had to go out and spend extra money unbudgeted to acquire personal protective equipment. We added about 50 ventilators, which increased our ventilator capacity by 400%. They cost about $100,000 apiece.
We also increased our negative-pressure rooms - from four to over 30 - where the air blows outside versus back into the hospital, so that we could accommodate COVID-19 patients.
Tell us about the mobile team of physicians and clinicians that was put together in March.
They go out to the nursing homes with PPE, they test patients and consult with the nursing (staff). It’s very important because people at nursing homes are already compromised. The patients who have tested positive in the nursing homes thus far have been contained. We’re really pleased with that, but that was another very significant added expense.