ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Minnesota hospitals say they're hemorrhaging money even before the coronavirus pandemic peaks, and accuse state health officials of working too slowly to deliver needed funding.
Mary Krinkie, the Minnesota Hospital Association's government relations director, told state lawmakers Thursday that hospitals are losing $31 million a day and lack needed supplies to protect their workers as the pandemic continues.
Last month, Gov. Tim Walz ordered health care providers to stop all elective surgeries, which are revenue-generators for hospitals. Krinkie said the hospitals urged Walz to take the step despite the loss of revenue because they were concerned about their supplies of personal protective equipment running low.
"We are in desperate need of cash to keep some of our hospitals open and operating," Krinkie said during the Minnesota Senate coronavirus working group's first meeting, which happened over video teleconference.
Late Thursday, the Trump administration said it was considering direct payments to hospitals to cover the cost of treating uninsured payments. But federal aid may take weeks or months to arrive, Krinkie said earlier.
Compounding the problems, Krinkie said hospitals have not seen a dime of the $200 million relief package approved by state lawmakers in mid-March. The law included $50 million in emergency funding for health care providers, but even that funding hasn't arrived.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, asked about the criticism, said the state had received 1,200 grant applications totaling $256 million, or five times the available amount of funding.
"We are going through those right now. It certainly is our goal to get them out quickly. That was the point of the legislation," Malcolm told reporters on a conference call.
Hospitals, clinics, ambulance services, nursing homes and other providers were eligible to apply for the funding.
"I know they got more requests in for the money than there was," Krinkie said, "but make some decisions and get the money out the door."
Eighteen Minnesotans have now died from the coronavirus, with 38 patients in intensive care. The age range on ICU patients is 25 to 98 years old.
Hospitals and the state's nursing union are both raising concerns about the lack of personal protective equipment available to health care workers.
As Walz held his daily briefing to calm Minnesotans about the outbreak, Minnesota Nurses Association president Mary Turner was tearfully telling state lawmakers about the equipment shortage.
Nurses are rationing N95 face masks and reusing them over multiple shifts, she told state senators.
"We are at war. We the nurses are on the front line," Turner said. "We head into the hospitals every day with what little PPE we have. And that’s our armor. But you know what, we’re ready to do battle with this virus, knowing that the patients and the public is why we became nurses."
The state has struggled to find face masks and other protective supplies, either through the federal government or on the open market.
"We’re gonna move hell or high water to make sure you guys are protected," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, responded. "You’re on the front lines."
Walz said the federal government needed to increase production.
"I and the governors across the country continue to ask," Walz told reporters. "We need a focus like we built tanks in World War II to build these things, and it needs to be done now.”