Green Valley News
Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital will get a $6.5 million shot in the arm this week from a federal assistance program but its future post-coronavirus remains unclear.
Hospital CEO Kelly Adams and a spokeswoman from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s office said SCVRH has been approved for the payment by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
It’s part of $34 billion in aid to healthcare providers in the form of advance or accelerated Medicare payments that is provided for in the CARES Act recently passed by Congress.
Adams said it could several more days before it comes through but Sinema spokeswoman Hannah Hurley said it could come through at any point.
Adams said the money “will give us a little breathing room and we can pay our staff next week.”
The hospital suspended direct deposit for employees and handed out written paychecks on Friday, which have to be held before the money is available.
Adams said payroll had been pre-funded, “but we explained to our employees that this policy was needed to preserve cash for a few days.”
The CMS plan is one of many on the state and federal levels to assist businesses, including hospitals.
Drop in the bucket
But a $50 million emergency plan announced Wednesday by Gov. Doug Ducey won’t help Green Valley much.
Ducey said the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) — Arizona’s Medicaid plan for low-income patients — will provide hospitals across the state $50 million in advance payments.
But Adams said only about 2 percent of their patients qualify for Medicaid, and they’ll likely receive less than $100,000 from the plan.
“That’s not going to get us very far,” he said.
Adams said Thursday they have applied for at least two other programs:
•Paycheck Protection Program, also part of the CARES Act, offers nearly $350 billion in potentially forgivable loans if workers are kept on the payroll.
•The Economic Injury Disaster Loan is an existing program that has been expanded because of COVID-19.
Adams said the hospital was on “a good trajectory” before the virus hit, looking at turning a profit in the second or third quarter, “and that’s huge,” he said.
“This COVID kind of stopped everybody dead in their tracks,” he said.
Green Valley and Sahuarita’s three state legislators have all been working on getting the hospital aid.
State Rep. Daniel Hernandez, who Sinema’s office called a point person on the issue, said SCVRH is in a tough position because it doesn’t have a lot of Medicaid patients. He said he is working with others to fast-track its Payment Protection Program application.
“Right now, we’re trying to pull every lever to see how much we can get from state and federal dollars to help Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital,” he said.
He said there’s one more option for minor relief but it’s a long shot. In 2019, the Legislature gave Northern Cochise Community Hospital in Willcox and Benson Hospital $1.5 million to maintain emergency department and trauma services.
Patrick Ptak, communications director for Gov. Ducey’s office, said that option had been briefly raised in discussions. But Hernandez said that would take an appropriation by the Legislature, which isn’t meeting because of the virus. The sum, which would come from the general fund, also likely wouldn’t be large enough to make a big difference.
State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro and state Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s office is taking the lead in running defense with federal agencies and they’re monitoring it.
Dalessandro said the Democratic caucus in the Senate and House talked about low-interest loan with deferred interest for four years that could be an option.
She said several hospitals in the state are struggling but called Santa Cruz Valley “the most dire one.”
Adams said he saw an outpouring of support from the community when the hospital’s plight went public.
He said the Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce, Green Valley Council, Green Valley Recreation and the Green Valley Sahuarita Association of Realtors are working on a letter of support that will go to the offices of Sens. Sinema and Martha McSally, U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and Gov. Ducey.
“Those letters of support are meaningful. I’m so impressed at the groundswell of community support that’s coming in,” he said. “We need help, and we need funds.”
Three HOAs and several individuals contacted the Green Valley News to say they, too, were writing in support of the hospital.
Hurley, from Sinema’s office, said Hernandez is working with Ducey to expand the definition of a critical-access hospital. Currently, that’s defined, in part, as a rural hospital at least 35 miles from another hospital. Santa Cruz Valley currently doesn’t qualify for extra funding that goes to those hospitals. Hurley said her office is following up with that.