How COVID-19 Has Affected Healthcare in the USA

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Sarah Peddie

The United States of America is one of the hardest hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic with the highest number of cases and highest death toll worldwide. Along with the high figures, the healthcare system has been greatly affected by the virus and many hospitals and clinics are struggling to stay in business as funds are low. 

Currently, the USA has over 1.7 million cases of coronavirus and over 102,000 deaths but is the hardest hit in the east coast of the country. 

At the beginning of March, the virus had hit the east coast of the country and Covid-19 patients were starting to flood into the hospitals like the Interfaith Medical Center that serve a low-income community in Brooklyn. By mid-April, the Interfaith and its two sister hospitals cared for more than 1,600 patients who were hospitalised with the virus. 

New York is the epicentre of the coronavirus within the US and has recorded 29,553 deaths (as of 27 May) throughout the state which is considerably higher than any other state throughout the country. According to analysis by WalletHub, New York state is in the list of top 10 states that has the worst infrastructure for handling the Covid-19 crisis. 

As the virus has swept across the US, it has dragged the healthcare system down. Even with a $175 billion bailout of taxpayers money, the healthcare system is still in a crisis with many hospitals facing cash shortages due to cancellation of elective procedures that they rely on to make money such as dental procedures and non-urgent surgery has caused revenue to plummet. 15 hospitals have already closed this year due to the financial damage caused by Covid-19. 

A lack of national coordination between states has also impeded the effort in tackling the coronavirus. Individual states have issued different guidance and are competing against one another to secure personal protective equipment. As public health authorities are different and separate from private hospitals which increases the challenge of a collective response. 

Around 27 million people in the US have a lack of any type of health insurance - this figure is set to rise as millions have lost their jobs. Patients risk getting left with expensive health bills when visiting the emergency room they cannot pay, this then creates a domino effect and forces debt on to the hospitals.

Many hospitals and companies have had to lay off or furlough their staff so they could keep running the hospital. The Pittsburgh based insurer Highmark Health will reduce its workforce by 123 and its provider arm - Allegheny Health Network lay off 250. Baylor Scott & White Health, a non-profit health system in Dallas, has laid off 1,200 workers which is nearly three percent of their workforce because of the financial damage caused by Covid-19 and furloughing an unspecified number of employees. A hospital in Maine eliminates their director of marketing role amid pandemic. 

With the pandemic hitting the health sector badly financially, many plans have had to be put on hold or cancelled completely. In Chicago, four hospitals have called off their $1.1 billion merger plan. Advocate Trinity Hospital, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, South Shore Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital ended talks after Illinois lawmakers decided not to approve government funding for the plan.

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