Private hospitals are ailing due to Covid-19

Since March 13, 2020 when the first of Covid-19 case was confirmed in Kenya, the number of cases have risen to more than 350.

A number of initiatives have been put in place to slow the spread of the virus. Schools, community gathering spaces like bars, gyms and golf clubs are all closed and workers advised to work from home.

Public vehicles have reduced the number of people they can carry per trip. Kenyans have been ordered to put on masks whenever they leave their houses. In addition, five counties which so far bear the burden of the disease have been put under a partial lockdown.

The government has put its focus in preventing the spread of the virus and building the capacity of the healthcare system to handle those who are or will get infected. In that regard, we applaud the president for taking the virus with the seriousness it deserves and protecting the lives of citizens.

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered unprecedented global health and economic crises. All over the world, different countries have come up with different economic measures to help their citizens overcome the economic burden if they survive the virus.

Our government has also introduced a number of measures to cushion the economy. However, in doing so, it forgot one important sector; private healthcare providers who account for more than 50 per cent of health service provision.

Policymakers at the Ministry of Health and medical associations have advised providers and doctors to halt non-essential procedures in order to preserve vital supplies for fighting Covid-19. That advisory has had a negative impact on businesses. Elective procedures are the lifeblood of many hospitals and specialty clinics, but the scaling back has led some facilities to almost have no patients.

Many owners of health facilities and doctors are now struggling to meet payroll and other expenses. The prices of medical consumables have in some cases increased by 1,000 per cent due to shortages and global demand.

This means a direct increase on cost of doing business for hospitals. Although the government did the right thing to issue the advisory as we all take Covid-19 seriously, it is unfortunate that we don’t know how prevalent Covid-19 is and how long we should maintain the current status.

Mental health

The current preparedness and response is mainly geared towards Covid-19 and the health system preparedness. Non-communicable diseases, which include cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung diseases are forgotten and not part of the response.

This can lead to an acute exacerbation or a life-threatening deterioration in the health of people with NCDs. Mental health needs are at the peak for both the healthcare workers and the general public.

If the current status goes on for a few months without identifying specific facilities as Covid-19 centres and allowing the rest to continue with treatment and prevention of other diseases, we will have another crisis shortly.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak in Kenya, many hospitals across the nation were already facing financial challenges. There has been a delay in payment by NHIF and other insurances which have forced most hospitals to operate from hand to mouth.

The lull in patients and lost revenue from canceling elective surgeries may bankrupt most hospitals or force them to close. The same is happening in public hospitals, but luckily they are unlikely to close.

The alternative is hospitals and doctors in the private sector laying off their medical staff at a time when we need them most. Most of these health providers face tough choices on whether to keep or send home their employees who will be badly needed when the pandemic reaches its peak.

There are many other suppliers and companies that also depend on hospitals. These are pharmaceutical, food, transport, among others. Most hospitals in the private sector have less than 15 days cash on hand.

As a hospital association, we appeal to the government to enforce pending bills settlement by NHIF and other insurances, which will improve hospitals’ financial status and allow them not lay off healthcare workers during this crisis.

We are also appealing to be given grants as part of the economic stimulus and health system preparedness.

We appeal for the easing of movement and resumption of elective and non-emergency clinics. This will not only avert another crisis of non-communicable diseases post Covid-19, but will give providers a lifeline to continue with their operations and be ready when the need arises.

Dr Abdi is the chairman, Kenya Association of Private Hospitals

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