THOMASVILLE, Ala. (WKRG) – Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day confirms Birmingham-based Medical Properties Trust has donated $2 million to Thomasville Regional Medical Center as the fight for assistance there continues.
WKRG News 5 first reported about the hospital’s financial struggles back in March as the facility was close to shutting down. Since that time, an anonymous $1 million donation came in April, helping to sustain operations for a short time.
Mayor Day and hospital officials continue their travels to Washington, D.C. hoping to receive COVID-19 relief funds they say should have been disbursed to the facility months ago. Day says Thomasville Regional Medical Center should have received help from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but a “glitch” in how funds are disbursed kept TRMC ND two other rural hospitals in the country empty-handed.
“We’re one of about three hospitals in the entire nation that has this issue. The issue we think happened is the hierarchy of HHS appointed leadership had not talked to HRSA or they had not good communication between the two and so the formula that they were using to compute these funds was never changed. We’re due what we think is around $7.3 or $7.4 million,” Day told us in March.
In the meantime as they search for answers, he says he’s thankful to those who have helped out.
“The impact of these donations cannot be overstated,” Day said. “Medical Properties Trust is helping us keep the doors of our hospital open, and our community is incredibly indebted to them. We are so grateful to them and others who are stepping up to help us through this crisis,” he continued.
Mayor Day shared a press release with us Tuesday afternoon concerning the continued efforts:
“Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day’s and other Alabama political leaders’ work to correct a funding inequity for its local hospital reached the highest levels in Washington this past week. The officials are working to get the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to rectify a bureaucratic “glitch” that has kept the Thomasville Regional Medical Center and two other hospitals from receiving COVID relief funds other institutions received. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell has worked for almost a year to correct an administrative process that appears to have inadvertently prevented three new acute care hospitals in the US from receiving funding that most other hospitals in the country received to offset losses caused by the pandemic.
Last Tuesday, Sewell traveled to Alabama with President Biden to thank workers at Lockheed in Troy for their work to support the US’ assistance for Ukraine’s defense of the Russian invasion of itscountry. During her time with the President, Sewell was able to share the critical funding issue facing the Thomasville hospital and the need for HHS to make remedying the situation a priority. Sewell had previously written the President on behalf of Thomasville and again requested his assistance. The President was sympathetic to the Congresswoman’s request and has promised a follow up from the Administration.
The Thomasville hospital opened its doors and began serving patients on March 3, 2020, just weeks before COVID-19 shut down much of the country and limited the care that hospitals could provide. Congress passed the CARES Act in March 2020 and the American Rescue Act in March 2021 to provide relief to America’s healthcare providers from massive revenue losses and additional expenses caused by the virus.
Although the 29-bed Thomasville hospital suffered as many financial hits as other facilities, the federal government doled out the biggest blocks of relief funds based on hospital revenues the year before the pandemic. That effectively deprived assistance to hospitals like Thomasville, which were not yet open in 2019. If Thomasville had received assistance available to other hospitals, it would have received $7.2 million.
Sewell, whose district includes Thomasville, has been the hospital’s most vocal champion with HHS and with the Biden Administration. Sewell questioned HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra before the House Ways & Means Committee on April 28. Sewell thanked Becerra for working with her on Thomasville and once again asked Becerra to address the disparity in relief funds.
“It is a hospital… in the heart of the Black Belt that opened up right as we began this pandemic and did not receive the kind of allocation that other hospitals received in the provider relief fund,” she said at the hearing. “I just want to continue to ask your help in making sure that small rural hospitals don’t continue to close when we have provider relief funds that would help us keep them open.”
Becerra pledged to continue to work to address the issue but indicated in a later comment to Republican Congressman Ron Estes – whose Kansas district includes another one of the three hospitals affected by the HHS policy — that provider relief funds were exhausted.
A Congressional Research Service report dated only three weeks earlier (April 7) however, calls that assertion into question. According to that report, billions of dollars of Provider Relief Funds remained at least as of April 7. The CRS report states, in part:
The Phase 4 distribution was announced on September 10, 2021, with the applicant portal available September 29, 2021. The Phase 4 allocation was $17 billion; using the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) estimates of PRF funds allocated as of August 31, 2021, that amount represented 70.8% of funds remaining in the PRF. HRSA told GAO that remaining funds were reserved for “future contingencies and emerging needs.”
While the original oversight in the formula calculating how revenue losses were determined by HRSA left out at least the three new hospitals, the reserve of funds for ‘future contingencies and emerging needs,’ would seem designed for situations just like Thomasville. Day said, “at the end of the day, we are asking HHS to make this right regardless of which fund it comes from.”
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee also questioned Becerra on May 4 about new hospitals (like Thomasville) not receiving a fair allocation of provider relief funds. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas told the Secretary that after working with the Health Resources and Services Administration for over a year to flag the problem faced by new hospitals it “seemed to him that HRSA seemed uncaring about solving this problem” and that he believed he was not the only member of the Senate that believedthat.” Moran asked bluntly, “Why is HRSA so unwilling to reconsider their methodology for PRF funding for new hospitals?”
The Thomasville hospital has received a slight reprieve since going public with the funding issue in the form of private donations to keep the doors open. Private benefactors such as Medical Properties Trust have been critical for the hospital.
Day said the federal government’s distribution of provider relief funds was fundamentally unfair and should be corrected. The need is especially critical in Alabama’s Black Belt, which makes up most of Congresswoman Sewell’s seventh district. In March, Harvard University released findings from its research of life expectancies for Americans in every congressional district in the country. Sewell’s district came in last.
“This is about doing the right thing for the right reason,” Day said. “If anything, new hospitals like ours were hurt the most when the pandemic hit. We should never have been shut out of the relief funds. This is about making sure people in our area continue to have access to health care. We are fighting to save lives.”