Competing Hospitals Cooperate to Meet the Crisis

By: and - April 8, 2020 12:00 am

A coronavirus patient is transported to a hospital in Brooklyn. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said COVID-19 is forcing competing American hospitals to cooperate. Braulio Jatar/Sipa via AP

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For hospitals, among the nation’s biggest and most competitive businesses, giving up lucrative surgeries to make way for a competitor’s overflow of patients does not come naturally.

But as COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm the American health care system, U.S. hospitals are cooperating in unprecedented ways. In addition to postponing elective surgeries and other procedures, they are transferring children from adult hospitals to pediatric hospitals and sharing staff, equipment and supplies. One health care system has gone as far as creating a COVID-19-only hospital.

In hard-hit New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created a command center to coordinate a “surge and flex” strategy to redistribute resources among the state’s hospitals in real time.

“We’re shifting among the hospitals, ventilators, [personal protective] equipment, who has gowns, who has masks, and that happens on a daily basis,” Cuomo said Monday.

At an earlier briefing, Cuomo noted that hospitals in New York have been forced to cooperate in ways “antithetical to the foundation of the business of health care in this state.”

There has been interstate cooperation too, even without federal coordination. Cuomo said it makes sense for states that haven’t yet reached a crisis point to shift resources to states where COVID-19 cases are peaking, knowing that the recipients will reciprocate when their situations settle down. Washington state, for example, shipped 400 ventilators back to the Strategic National Stockpile to make them available to other states. Oregon sent 140 ventilators to New York.

Many hospitals around the country fear that they wouldn’t be able to handle a COVID-19 surge on their own, according to a report released Friday by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report, based on a survey of 323 hospitals in 46 states, noted shortages of beds, equipment and staff.

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Michael Ollove

Michael Ollove covers health care for Stateline. Ollove worked for many years at The Baltimore Sun, as an enterprise reporter and an editor.

Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.