COVID-19 in Pa.: Wolf rolls out $450M emergency loan program for hospitals

Gov. Tom Wolf briefs journalists on Monday, 3/3/20 on the state's latest efforts to fight COVID-19 (screen capture)

Gov. Tom Wolf has announced a dramatic increase in financial assistance for the state’s hospitals as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Democratic governor said he’s authorized the creation of a $450 million emergency loan program for the state’s hospitals to make sure they don’t go bankrupt during the COVID-19 crisis. It is also aimed at ensuring these hospitals and systems have all the personnel, personal protective equipment and medical equipment they need, he said.

Wolf rolled out the proposal in a pre-recorded announcement preceding a daily briefing by Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

In a statement released after the announcement, the administration said the money would be funneled through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, and administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development through its Pennsylvania First Program.

“The combination of increased costs and reduced revenue has hurt many hospitals financially,” Wolf said in a statement. “We must support our hospitals through this unprecedented time. When this pandemic finally ends, we’re going to need hospitals to care for our regular medical needs, like heart attacks and broken bones. This new loan program will provide immediate relief to our hospitals, which are on the frontlines of this pandemic.”

 In that same statement, state Treasurer Joe Torsella said hospitals, which are preparing for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, “should be focused on saving lives, not worrying about how to make ends meet until federal relief funds arrive months from now.”

COVID-19 in Pa.: Hospitals seek another aid package from Wolf, lawmakers

The administration’s announcement comes just a day after the state’s main hospital trade group, the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania, said it was looking for a package of financial assistance that included tax forgiveness, a special COVID-19 relief fund and liability protection. That request came barely two weeks after the state authorized more than $50 million in assistance to hospitals through an emergency fund.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Andy Carter, the trade group’s CEO, said hospitals statewide are losing $1.5 billion to $2 billion a month through the cancellation of elective surgeries and other actions as the hospital community reorients itself to tackle the pandemic. Health systems statewide have furloughed employees as those surgeries have been canceled and primary care clinics have been shuttered, the Morning Call of Allentown reported.

Earlier on Friday, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said the commonwealth’s hospitals and health systems would receive $1.25 billion from the CARES Act that congress recently passed.

The money from the new emergency loan fund announced Friday could help hospitals get new needed equipment, Wolf said.

Wolf and Levine continued to stress that people should stay home as much as possible to help flatten the curve of new cases.

“I just want to emphasize that we’re not yet done,” Wolf said.

People should keep up their efforts at self quarantining. He pointed out that there have been cases where one person has infected many others. 

“Don’t be patient zero,” he said. “Stay home, unless you absolutely must leave.”

Levine talked about the possibility that the state’s number of deaths could peak within the next two weeks. The department of health reported that 416 Pennsylvanians have died from the disease so far.

“There isn’t going to be one peak,” Levine said, adding that it will vary by different regions.

While Friday’s new cases were lower than Thursday’s numbers, it was a grim workweek for the state, with a dizzying increase in COVID-19 cases. 

On Monday, the state reported 12,980 cases in the state, an increase of 1,470. Tuesday saw an increase of 1,579 to 14,559. The total increased Wednesday by 1,680 to 16,239. On Thursday, 1,989 new cases were reported, leaving the state with 18,228. With Friday’s addition of 1,751, the state is now at 19,979.

In five days, the commonwealth’s total grew by 6,999 during the workweek.

Levine admitted the numbers are actually higher.

“We know that our data is an underreport, just like the flu,” she said.

Correspondent Patrick Abdalla covers northeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star.