Hospital losses hurt public health efforts | Opinion

Patients with chronic kidney disease, whether caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, congenital reasons or others, know their damaged kidneys may grow worse over time. In that case, their only treatment option is dialysis or a kidney transplant. That’s the point where many of our patients develop a strong relationship with their local hospitals.

However, during the COVID-19 outbreak, members of our community who require multiple dialysis treatments each week or who were pre- or post-transplant were caught off guard. They depend upon their local hospitals for care, and they also are at higher risk of developing COVID-19 and suffering a more severe response because of their underlying medical conditions.

Across Pennsylvania, our hospitals are a lifeline for chronic kidney disease patients. They have mounted a Herculean effort to set up separate COVID-19 units to protect kidney disease patients and others at high risk, to buy and stock adequate supplies and equipment for the increase in patient load, and to provide safe, quality care to non-COVID patients.

At the same time, because hospitals reduced elective surgeries and nonemergency procedures during the pandemic, their revenue has plunged — a problem exacerbated by the increased costs of COVID-19 resources.

Unfortunately, they cannot handle this with ease. A full 34 percent of general acute care hospitals operated in the red last year, and another 29 percent have operating margins from 0 percent to 4 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council’s most recent hospital financial analysis. Shockingly, losses for hospitals this year could exceed $10 billion statewide, a study commissioned by The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania uncovered.

As an organization that works closely with several hospital communities, the Kidney Foundation of Central PA implores state leaders to prioritize hospitals and front-line workers when deciding how to distribute the $3.9 billion in CARES Act funding Pennsylvania received from the federal government.

We need to ensure our local hospitals remain open, not just for today’s patients but for tomorrow’s.

The closure of hospitals in Pennsylvania would mean that patients with chronic kidney disease would have to travel farther and incur greater treatment expenses. In such scenarios, people could lose reasonable access to quality medical care. This would lead to more expensive hospital interventions over a longer term, impacting quality of life.

The loss of local hospitals would also endanger our present and future public health efforts. The Kidney Foundation of Central PA works in partnership with hospitals to offer education and screening events for our communities, particularly because symptoms of chronic kidney disease may not manifest until the kidneys are damaged. In fact, according to the National Kidney Foundation, seven of 10 Americans have some degree of kidney disease.

For patients dealing with chronic kidney disease now and those millions more who we know will face it in the future, we need Pennsylvania to stand up today and support our hospitals for tomorrow.


KFCP provides advocacy resources for kidney patients and their caregivers