Stimulus dollars have arrived. Now what?

The money your organization received from the federal government looks like a lot on paper.

Especially to a society facing record unemployment and financial hardship. Yet, it’s not enough to avoid painful decisions about how to allocate it.

The funds that arrived last month in the form of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act were much needed. And while providers nationwide saw a momentary boost in their bank accounts, most critics agree that more is needed to make up for the loss that healthcare providers had while operations shifted to focus on COVID-19 healing and safety. Congress is now considering additional measures and funds for healthcare providers.

How do you communicate that tension over how to use the funds? How do you explain to your employees and providers that you received funds after you instituted salary reductions or furloughs? How do you put the funds into perspective for your community after you temporarily or permanently closed facilities or service lines? And, how do you prepare for the next wave of funds?

Since the epidemic hit, you probably made tough operational decisions that will have a lasting impact on healthcare services in your community. Knowing that revenue generated by health systems and providers is a source of constant scrutiny, media outlets and communities will undoubtedly question how federal funds are being utilized.

The only way to live in the tension is to have a story and tell it. Here are some insights on what that story can look like.

  • Reinforce your focus on the future. For clients going through financial hardships – such as filing for bankruptcy or looking for a partner to help stabilize a struggling health system – the message may need to be in parallel with your emphasis on the future. These dollars are not the solution to all your problems, but they are appreciated and necessary in the short-term to keep the doors open while long-term solutions are developed.
  • Put it into perspective. Perhaps your financial shortfalls will be lessened. Without the ability to conduct elective procedures and surgeries, revenue shortfalls are happening everywhere. Our clients are making tough financial decisions that impact employees and providers – including cuts in pay or hours and furloughing employees. In some cases, these changes can be less impactful or be reversed sooner than anticipated because of the stimulus.
  • Form alliances with your local and regional legislators. Some of our clients were proactive in soliciting local and regional legislators’ support of the appropriations bill. Others sent them notes after the CARES Act passed to thank them for their backing and ask for quick distribution of the funds. Demonstrate why your healthcare organization needs their support, whether that be to protect local access to rural healthcare or to train future healthcare providers. Begin the dialogue today.

The government doesn’t have enough money in its coffers to reverse the damage COVID-19 has done to the financial viability of healthcare providers, but something is better than nothing. Own your narrative by communicating how the stimulus funds will benefit your organization and the community it serves. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for more.

Letitia Fecher