Shortly after Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., died at the Texas Health Resources hospital, Moody's Investors Service revised its outlook on the health system's long-term debt from positive to developing, citing financial uncertainty after the company became center stage for the Ebola crisis.
In a disclosure to bondholders filed with its third-quarter financial results, Texas Health Resources estimated a significant impact on its finances and operations, comparing the first 20 days of October with the trajectory set in the first nine months of the year. Net revenue dropped $8.1 million, a decline of 25.6%. The daily census fell 21.1%, to 337 from 428. ER visits were down 53.3% and OR surgeries were down 25.0%.
“We chose not to have that impact our employee population,” Berdan said. “We told everybody that we weren't going to reduce staffing, we weren't going to manage productivity—we were going to keep people working at their regular rates and times—and I think we kept everybody really focused on this challenge that we had to stay strong and get through this period of time.”
Texas Health Resources has not released updated numbers related to hospital utilization or financial performance since the continuing disclosure document dated Oct. 22, and fourth quarter financials will likely not be available until Texas Health releases its audited annual financial statements next April. But for comparative purposes, hospital census figures have shown some improvement.
A recently distributed internal report showed that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas' average daily census on Wednesday was slightly above September's average. Meanwhile, surgeries were above the September average, while the emergency department census still remained down from the average patient load in September, the month before the Ebola situation.
Throughout the interview, Berdan was critical of the media's handling of the crisis. Shortly after Duncan's death, the not-for-profit health system brought in global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to handle the influx of media requests and the “sea of satellite trucks” that Berdan notes were parked on the hospital's front lawn. The PR firm continues to do work for Texas Health Resources, but in a significantly reduced capacity, he said.
“They were very helpful and they did a lot of listening and interpreting with us, and helped us create messages that were timely responses to what we were hearing both internally and externally,” Berdan said.
“I think what I learned from the crisis is that my style of listening intently, asking questions and turning that into actions worked,” Berdan said. “But it had to be compressed into a much tighter timeframe.”
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