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MUSC's finances took a hit in March from coronavirus, but recovery expected by June

Coronavirus Pandemic

Local police and other first responders from show their appreciation to health care workers during an event at the Medical University of South Carolina last month. The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on MUSC's finances. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

The Medical University of South Carolina lost $25 million in March, the first month that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic began to show up on its balance sheet.

But a full recovery to normal operations is expected by June, officials said Friday.

The financial update points to a trend that's playing out at hospitals around the country — that the health crisis hasn't benefited many health care providers. Decisions to pull back on elective and other non-urgent surgeries that normally would generate much-needed revenue hit hospitals square in the pocketbook, while overall patient traffic has fallen.

MUSC's results reported Friday during a board of trustees meeting represent just the month of March, not April or May. And the system was responding to the coronavirus pandemic for only about half of that month, said Lisa Goodlett, chief financial officer for MUSC's hospitals.  

The new Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital, which was opened in February, lost $2.9 million more than expected in March as it ramped up operations.

All told, MUSC said it lost $25.1 million because of the pandemic in March. 

The reason is simple, Goodlett said: "We have more expenses than we have revenue coming in."

However, avoiding an overwhelming surge of COVID-19 patients may position the system to recover well.

Donations are up, with $1.7 million raised for coronavirus relief. Those funds will go toward testing, insurance premiums for laid-off staffers, research and other expenses.

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And funding from the federal CARES Act, announced in early May, provided a $27 million grant to MUSC.

Dr. Pat Cawley, CEO of MUSC Health, said he is beginning to see a path toward financial stabilization and recovery. He also cautioned that restarting services hasn't meant hospital operations will snap back to normal.

"It's coming back very, very slowly," Cawley said Friday. 

MUSC thinks its Charleston hospitals will be seeing 87 percent of their typical volume by late May. Cawley projected they'll be back to normal levels sometime in June.

The roughly 900 MUSC employees who were laid off have not been brought back yet, a spokeswoman said this week. Plans call for bringing them back in phases over the next few months. 

Special funding is also coming to MUSC to help the state's public health department expand its coronavirus testing efforts. The General Assembly passed a resolution giving the state-supported hospital system $25 million to develop a statewide testing plan that will target underserved communities and hotspots. It awaits Gov. Henry McMaster's signature.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

Mary Katherine, who also goes by MK, is a reporter covering health care and technology for The Post and Courier's business desk. She grew up in upstate New York and enjoys playing cards, kayaking and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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