FORGIVE THE FRONTLINES
As we cross the grim milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 casualties, and thousands of people take to the streets to protest systemic racial injustice in America in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, we see that, like all aspects of American life, there’s even racial disparity in the impact this virus is having on the health and economy of people of color. As Senior Pastor of Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, we have seen this firsthand, as we mourn the loss of over 10 congregants as well.
In New York City, 28% of deaths are black people, who make up only 22% of the population. Similarly, 34% of deaths are Hispanic people, representing 29% of the population. State data shows that black people are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19.
As this pandemic shifts from health crisis to economic crisis, communities of color are about to face yet another disparity. Frontline workers in New York City are people of color and they, along with their communities, are about to face a financial reckoning.
In her study last year, Adia Harvey Wingfield, a professor renowned for her research on racial and gender inequality, found that black healthcare practitioners’ choices about serving communities least likely to access high-quality healthcare led them to practice in urban areas where their patients were primarily black, Hispanic, and low income or uninsured. Thus, here in New York, the pandemic has created a situation where people of color are both on the frontline and among the most at-risk patients. We are getting hit on both sides we’re about to get hit disproportionately once again.
As the pandemic spread across the nation, hospitals increased capacity to prepare for the Covid-19 surge. Providers shuttered most non-COVID-19 services in order to preserve needed capacity and flatten the curve. Many hospitals have not faced a surge, but all hospital revenues have plunged, while costs have risen. Unprecedented losses caused hospitals to furlough employees. Hospitals are in need of financial life-support after losing 40-60% of their normal service revenue, along with investment losses and patients losing health insurance due to skyrocketing unemployment. Throughout the country, hospitals shed over 1.4 million jobs in April alone and are losing $50.7 billion per month.
And now, after spending months in the trenches and out of the pandemic, or even into a second wave, our frontline workers are will be hit with massive job insecurity. Once again, the racial disparity means that minorities will be hit harder.
In the Cares Act, Congress provided needed assistance to providers, in the form of $175 billion in emergency grants. Congress also approved a provision for reimbursement of all provider COVID-19 costs, including lost revenues. Unfortunately, $175 billion is not enough to cover the losses.
As losses mounted, providers flocked to another Cares Act provision – Medicare Advanced Accelerated Payment – a seldom-used loan program for providers experiencing short-term cash flow issues. In just over three weeks providers received $101 billion in loans to stabilize their finances. These loans come due in one year. Repayment is in the form of reduced Medicare reimbursement. Hospitals will not be able to repay the loans.
Losses continuing this summer will extend into the fall and winter, when coronavirus round two and the flu create significant seasonal demand. This will mean more financial turmoil for hospitals and their employees, and worse, put the health and safety of everyone at risk. Reports are that one hundred hospitals could close within a year.
Congress can provide the solution by adopting the bi-partisan effort to forgive the advance Medicare payment loans. Loan forgiveness, much like PPP loans are helping small business, will allow hospitals to survive and focus on healthcare.
Loan forgiveness will also aid economic recovery, as the healthcare sector is almost 20% of the national economy. Almost half of US economic loss in the first quarter of 2020 is attributed to healthcare. Loan forgiveness will provide hospitals the stability needed to weather the pandemic and boost overall economic recovery.
COVID-19 has caused great damage all across America, and nowhere worse than in New York. The situation here brings to mind the old adage, “when white folks catch a cold, black folks get pneumonia.” Congress must act quickly on loan forgiveness for our hospitals because our frontline healthcare workers, our economy and our communities of color depend upon it.
Dr. Johnnie M. Green, Jr. is Senior Pastor of Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, NY, the President/CEO of MPAC-NY, Manna For Your Mornings, the owner of Agape Children’s Academy of NJ, and the VP Area 6 Empire Baptist Missionary State Convention.