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Updated: April 13, 2020 From the Editor

Fix healthcare funding for the future

Dr. Eric Dickson didn’t pull any punches during our interview on April 3 for WBJ’s podcast. The president and CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care said unless something is done to help fix the Central Massachusetts’ hospital system’s finances, the region’s only level 1 trauma center won’t be around for the next pandemic.

WBJ editor Brad Kane at his desk
WBJ Editor Brad Kane

Specifically, Dickson was talking about the roughly $230 million UMass Memorial spends every year supporting UMass Medical School in Worcester and covering the shortfall in funding for Medicaid programs. The system brings in about $2.3 billion in revenues annually, so those expenses account for roughly 10% and are vital when Dickson is counting every penny to avoid running in the red, as UMass Memorial has for the last two fiscal years, including the $10-million deficit it ran in fiscal 2019, which would have been much worse if it hadn’t sold off its pharmacy management unit for $208 million.

One of the main lessons of the coronavirus crisis has been how vital UMass Memorial is to Central Massachusetts. Dickson has been a leading voice in efforts to get more supplies and available beds, and UMass Memorial will manage the emergency field hospital set up in the DCU Center in Worcester for the expected overflow of coronavirus patients. As the main hospital system for Central Massachusetts, UMass Memorial treats the region’s most vulnerable patients, who often have limited ability to pay for the care.

Dickson already has been calling for healthcare financing reform, but with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping through the region and nation, the volume of his voice is getting turned up. If UMass Memorial were to go under, Central Massachusetts residents would have to rely on the Boston hospital system for services like major traumas and certain premature babies. That is a long drive through a lot of traffic in a medical emergency.

As the coronavirus pandemic carries on, we are evaluating our values as a society. The importance of grocery store workers has become all the more apparent; the reliance on technology for working from home has drastically increased. In previous federal and state budget cycles, throwing more money at an already costly healthcare system seems to be one of many concerns. Now, as we need healthcare workers and facilities more than ever, we need to prioritize them as such.

- Brad Kane, editor

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