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The president of the hospital association said the group will press for federal aid and the continuation of waivers implemented during the pandemic.
San Diego - Rick Pollack smiled broadly as he looked out at the packed room in the Manchester Grand Hyatt.
Pollack, the president of the American Hospital Association, welcomed the first Leadership Summit in three years that was, as he put it, “three-dimensional.”
On the conference’s opening day Sunday, Pollack also tackled some serious topics as he addressed hospital leaders from across the nation.
“The core question for us,” he said, “How do we face the future?”
As hospitals hope to soon pivot from “the biggest public health crisis in more than 100 years,” Pollack said there are a host of challenges ahead. While he looks forward to the time when COVID-19 eventually move to the endemic phase, he noted the virus hasn’t disappeared and health systems will still need to get more people vaccinated.
Hospitals are confronting higher costs due to inflation, uncertain funding, a host of patients either with the virus and those who deferred care, and supply chain headaches.
“The pivot involves the continues repair and rebuilding of our healthcare system,” Pollack said.
With the crunch of patients from the pandemic and higher costs, Pollack said, “Many of us are facing significant financial challenges.”
Hospitals are grateful for the federal relief they received to deal with the pandemic. “It certainly provided a lifeline to plug the gaps of lost revenue,” Pollack said.
But he also said, “We haven’t received a dime for delta and omicron.” Those surges generated half of all hospital admissions for COVID-19.
“We’re extremely disappointed that hasn’t been addressed,” Pollack said, vowing that the association will continue to push for more aid from the federal government. Those remarks drew applause from hospital leaders.
The hospital association is also pressing the government to ensure waivers tied to the federal government’s Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 are made permanent. Those waivers allowed hospitals to develop and expand critical programs, including telehealth services and hospital-at-home programs.
“Those waivers gave us flexibility and sparked innovation,” Pollack said.
Hospitals are also anxious to see reimbursements from the federal government for the 340B program, which offers health systems discounts on certain drugs because they serve a large number of disadvantaged payments.
In a long-anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court last month struck down Medicare’s reduced reimbursements. The association has asked the government to make the payments a high priority.
Pollack urged hospital leaders to be vocal advocates for their needs, taking the case directly to lawmakers. “They listen most closely to what you say, particularly in election year,” he said, adding, “You have the power if you choose to exert it.”
Plus, Pollack offered another incentive for healthcare leaders to be in regular contact with their lawmakers. When they don’t hear from you, Pollack said, they assume everything is fine.
With the changing landscape of healthcare, hospitals are going to have to improve their customer experience. They’ll have to offer better care and better value. And they’ll need to rebuild their workforce and stabilize their finances.
Pollack made sure to celebrate the achievements of hospitals in the pandemic.
Hospitals met the moment by showing their ability to adapt during the pandemic, implementing telehealth services and delivering vaccines in sports stadiums, he said.
“You witnessed heartbreak … and you kept going,” he said.
“Hospitals are society’s ultimate safety net.”
Seeing that resilience and ability to respond to such an emergency, Pollack said, “That’s why we’re confident about the future.”
“I’m confident about the future because our communities need us,” he said.
America, he said, “needs our hospitals to be strong.”