Measured Steps – Virginia Business

Health systems recover financially but remain cautious


September 29, 2021

Catherine De Rosa

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Photo by Mark Rhodes

While Hampton Roads healthcare systems have done some big business over the past year, the biggest news has been a deal that didn’t happen.

The proposed merger of Norfolk-based Sentara Healthcare with North Carolina-based Cone Health which was announced in August 2020 and would have created a system of 17 hospitals with combined annual revenue of $ 11.5 billion of dollars, was canceled in June.

“We have realized that each of our communities and key stakeholders need the support and commitments of our respective organizations who are best served by remaining independent,” Sentara and Cone Health said in a joint statement.

Healthcare systems are in better financial shape this year than in 2020, when Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order banned elective surgery for several months. But at the same time, officials are fully aware of the possibility of future instability, even after COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available.

This summer has raised new concerns about the increase in hospitalizations for COVID, as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads mainly among unvaccinated people. Virginia’s COVID positivity rate rose to 10% in late August, from 1.5% in June.

“We are optimistic about Sentara’s financial outlook, but understand that COVID-19 is with us for the long haul and has changed all aspects of the way we live, work and care for others,” said the former Sentara spokesperson Brittany Vajda.

Riverside Health System, based at Newport News, modeled its 2021 budget on its 2019 plan, CEO Bill Downey said, although revenues have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, Riverside has seen treatments and services return to near-normal activity this year.

Partnerships between hospital systems and universities have continued in the past
12 months. The Hampton Roads Biomedical Research Consortium, a collaboration between Sentara, Old Dominion University and Eastern Virginia Medical School, launched in late 2020. Sentara has also pledged $ 4 million to establish Virginia’s first school of public health, a joint initiative between EVMS, ODU and Norfolk State University. Schools signed a memorandum of understanding in August, solidifying the school’s plans.

Sentara is part of a group of 14 nationwide healthcare systems that have formed a new company, Truveta, which will offer data insights for patient care, the systems, including Bon Secours said. , in February. Truveta is creating a data platform using artificial intelligence and machine learning that will allow healthcare systems to learn from each other and provide larger study samples than each could individually.

In May, Sentara also became one of the first health systems in Virginia to raise its minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, joining UVA Health, which implemented the $ 15 minimum wage in January. (The minimum wage imposed by the federal government is $ 7.25; the minimum wage imposed by the state of Virginia is expected to rise to $ 11 on January 1, 2022.)

The wage increase affected about 5,700 workers in the Hampton Roads area, Sentara said last year. The health care system employs more than 28,000 people in Virginia and North Carolina.

“From a business perspective, one of the important things is that we have great talent in the Commonwealth,” Becky Sawyer, executive vice president and chief human resources officer of Sentara Healthcare, told Virginia Business in May. . “The recruiting process is very expensive. It is much more profitable to pay a person a reasonable salary.

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