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May 26, 2020

Central Mass. healthcare centers have received $139M in bailout funds

Photo | Grant Welker UMass Memorial Medical Center's Memorial Campus in Worcester

Hospitals and other healthcare centers in Central Massachusetts have received nearly $139 million in coronavirus-related funding to help during what some health leaders have said is a budgetary crisis as well as a health one.

Aid has been both substantial and what some hospital leaders have said isn't nearly enough to ward off major fiscal challenges ahead, largely due to everyday medical procedures being postponed for weeks during the height of the pandemic.

In Worcester, UMass Memorial Medical Center has received $52 million, and Saint Vincent Hospital has gotten nearly $20 million, according to a review of federal health grants by the website COVID Stimulus Watch, a project of Good Jobs First, a group tracking federal business subsidies and tax incentives. All 26 Central Massachusetts healthcare grants were received in early to mid-May.

MetroWest Medical Center received nearly $19 million for its Framingham Union Hospital campus and another nearly $5 million for its Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick. Among other acute-care hospitals in Central Massachusetts, Milford Regional Medical Center and Clinton Hospital each received roughly $4 million.

Those hospitals are recipients of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grants totaling more than $1.2 billion across Massachusetts. The federal CARES Act has dedicated $175 billion to hospitals and other healthcare centers, with most of that funding split based on a facility's typical patient revenue, its area's impact by the outbreak, and factors such as serving low-income and uninsured patients. More than $63 billion has been disbursed through Tuesday, according to COVID Stimulus Watch, which collated its data through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting system.

Other area healthcare providers have received funding, too. Brigham And Women's Physicians Organization, for example, got $8 million for operations in Milford, where it runs a cancer care center at Milford Regional Medical Center with Dana Farber. McLean Hospital, a behavioral health hospital based in Belmont, received more than $3 million for a treatment center it runs in Petersham.

Hospital leaders spoke about budgetary concerns during a Worcester Business Journal web forum May 21.

UMass Memorial Medical Center lost $25 million in March and another $40 million to $45 million in April, as the hospital fought the peak of the pandemic, managed a field hospital at the DCU Center in Worcester and delayed more than 1,000 procedures. In all, the hospital has a roughly $75-million deficit, President Michael Gustafson said.

Other healthcare leaders said they were fortunate to be part of larger for-profit health networks helping them weather the financial punch of the outbreak. Saint Vincent Hospital and MetroWest Medical Center are part of Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, and Reliant Medical Group is part of Minnesota-based Optum, a branch of UnitedHealth Group.

Tenet received a total of $308 million from the federal government, COVID Stimulus Watch said. Steward Health Care, another Dallas-based for-profit entity, which owns Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, received a total of $111 million.

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found pandemic-related grants have tended to disproportionately benefit hospitals with the highest share of patients who pay with private insurance. Private payers generally reimburse hospitals at far higher rates than do Medicaid and Medicare.

Many Central Massachusetts hospitals treat mostly Medicaid and Medicare patients though, according to the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis. At least 60% of patients fall into that category at nine area hospitals: Athol Hospital, Harrington Hospital, UMass Memorial HealthAlliance, Heywood Hospital, Heywood Hospital, Marlborough Hospital, MetroWest Medical Center, Nashoba Valley Medical Center, Saint Vincent Hospital, and UMass Memorial Medical Center.

Athol Hospital is among the highest in the state, with 73% of patients paying with a public coverage program.

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