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Lee Health feels financial ramifications of pandemic

By Staff | May 18, 2020

As healthcare workers around the country work through the hazardous conditions of a global pandemic, the economic impact of COVID-19 has reached our local healthcare system.

Lee Health on Monday announced two voluntary programs for employees “intended to reduce labor costs.”

These programs offer system employees either a severance payout or a “summer sabbatical.”

They are completely voluntary, officials stressed.

President and CEO of Lee Health, Dr. Larry Antonucci, said the financial impact of the virus will be felt for months, if not years.

“We have taken steps to reduce non-essential operating expenses, but the magnitude of COVID-19’s impact on our health system requires us to take action to align our staffing with the volume of patients we are seeing today and in the coming future,” Antonucci said Monday.

A decline in admissions and surgery numbers — which Antonucci said were down 50-55 percent — are major factors driving the programs.

“These reductions in volumes were the right thing to do for our patients and our community, but they also came with financial implications that we expect will have an impact on our budget for months, if not years, to come,” Antonucci said. “We have taken steps to reduce non-essential operating expenses, but the magnitude of COVID-19’s impact on our health system requires us to take action to align our staffing with the volume of patients we are seeing today and in the coming future.”

According to Lee Health, the Voluntary Exit Program “allows employees to separate from Lee Health with a generous severance payout.”

The other program announced was the Voluntary Summer Sabbatical, which “allows an employee to take four to six weeks off during the summer with or without using their paid time off.”

“These voluntary programs will help ensure the long-term viability of our health system so that we may continue to provide the safe care that our community deserves,” Antonucci said. “As I mentioned, this is entirely voluntary and is the decision of the employee.”

* Lee Health using antiviral drug to treat COVID patients

Antonucci also announced Monday that Lee Health has begun using the antiviral drug Remdesvir to treat coronavirus patients.

Officials said the drug might be able to help patients recover quicker.

“While the benefits of the drug are not yet fully known, there is evidence that it can help shorten the length of a COVID-19 patient’s illness by days,” Antonucci said. “Remdesivir is administered through an IV, and has received emergency use authorization to be used for COVID-19. There is evidence that shows both blood plasma from recovered patients and Remdesivir have positive therapeutic effects for coronavirus patients, but there is much we do not know about this new virus and further research and scientific scrutiny is required to truly understand the full effects.”

* Antibody testing begins Monday; Mayo clinic study continues

Serology testing, or testing for COVID-19 antibodies, began Monday at Lee Health. Antonucci said serology testing shows the presence of coronavirus antibodies in a patient’s blood stream.

“While this testing is helpful to know how the virus has spread in our area, it is important to point out that the presence of antibodies does not necessarily mean the patient is immune from the coronavirus,” Antonucci said in a conference call last week. “More research still needs to be done to know how the presence of antibodies impacts overall immunity. Tests will be performed in physician offices and in our blood draw stations at the Lee Health lab, and anyone who is curious if they’ve been exposed to the virus can request a test from their doctor.”

According to Lee Health spokesperson Pat Dolce, the testing is $65, but can be as low as $34.13 if the patient pays up front and does not use insurance.

Lee Health also is continuing to accept donations of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as part of their role with the Mayo Clinic and their study on plasma.

“While there is no known cure, it is possible that antibodies in a recovered individual’s blood may help others recover faster,” Antonucci said.

Anyone who is interested in making a donation can contact Lee Health’s blood center at 343-2332 or email COVID.plasma@LeeHealth.org .

* By the Numbers

As of Monday at noon, Lee Health had 80 COVID-19 patients isolated in system hospitals, an increase of one from its last update Friday afternoon. A total of 391 patients who had tested positive have been discharged, including 33 over the weekend.

The system has submitted a total of 14,454 specimens for testing, with only one result currently pending.

Lee Health mobile collection sites on over the weekend collected 319 specimens and had 1,071 virtual visits between Lee TeleHealth and MyChartVideo.

Current bed capacity is at 69 percent, with 7 percent of those being COVID-19 patients.

As of Monday, 70 percent of ventilators and 22 percent of ICU rooms are available for use across Lee Health facilities.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj