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Staying Alive!

The coronavirus is here to stay, for the time being at least.  And now it is boiling down to, who will survive this catastrophe? Which people, which company, which manufacturer, which hospital, which diagnostic center, who all?

Hospitals and diagnostic centers are bleeding. Already in a low financial performance pre-COVID state, the situation has been compounded by the sharp drop in out-patient footfalls, diagnostic testing, elective surgeries, and international patients. Occupancy levels in hospitals have dropped to 25-40 percent and the outpatient consultations are down 70 percent.  Add to this a 20 per cent rise in expenditure on protective gear. Some hospitals had to be sealed as their staff tested positive for COVID-19.  Many of the smaller ones, the hospitals with under 30 beds, and there are 34,000 of them, have been forced to shut down. In fact, the Association of Healthcare Providers, with 1000 private hospitals as its members, at the beginning of April declared that they would not be able to pay their staff the entire salary for the month, and the situation could worsen. And the nightmare has other aspects as laying off some workers, not paying support staff as security personnel and ward boys, salary cuts, shortage of PPEs thus risking employees to infection, to list a few. This is in the backdrop of government dues for some hospitals under CGHS and ECHS schemes in the range of Rs 2000 crores.

FICCI in collaboration with EY, has conducted an impact assessment that the private healthcare sector is expected to face and made some alarming observations for the Rs 2.4 trillion sector. The operating losses expected for the hospitals is Rs 4500-7300 crore per month, assuming occupancy of 35-20 percent; and for the diagnostic labs even worse, Rs 200-800 crore per month, assuming a 50-80 percent decline in revenue.

And one last thought, where have all the non-COVID patients gone? Hospitals are usually so full that patients wait in stretchers, along the walls of the emergency department for a bed to become available. But the pandemic has caused a previously unimaginable shift in the demand for hospital services. Many of the emergencies have disappeared. And this is not specific to India. The patients just seem to have vanished-in harmony with Mother Earth’s healing!

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