A whole town celebrated in 2020 when, early in the coronavirus pandemic, Thomasville Regional Medical Center opened, offering state-of-the-art medicine that was previously unavailable in a poor, isolated part of Alabama. The timing for the ribbon-cutting seemed perfect: New treatment options would be available in an underserved area just as a global health crisis was unfolding.
In the end, that same timing may be the reason for the hospital's undoing.
Now deep in the red two years into the pandemic, the 29-bed, $40 million hospital with a soaring, sun-drenched lobby and 110 employees is among three medical centers in the United States that say they are missing out on millions in federal pandemic relief money because the facilities are so new they lack full financial statements from before the crisis to prove how much it cost them.
In Thomasville, located in timber country about 95 miles (153 kilometers) north of the Gulf Coast port of Mobile, hospital officials have worked more than a year to convince federal officials they should have gotten $8.2 million through the CARES Act, not just the $1 million they received. With a total debt of $35 million, the quest gets more urgent each day, said Curtis James, the chief executive officer.
"No hospital can sustain itself without getting the CARES Act money that everybody else got," James said.
Employees are trying to save money by cutting back on supplies but residents including Judy Hutto are worried about the hospital's future. Hutto drove there recently for tests from her home 15 miles (24 kilometers) out in the country.
"The areas needs it," she said. "It's a nice hospital."
CEO Barry Beus also is trying to plug a gap at Rock Regional Hospital, located south of Wichita in Derby, Kansas. The hospital is due as much as $15.8 million, officials said, but because it only opened in April 2019 and lacks complete pre-pandemic financial statements, it has received just a little more than $985,000.
The only thing that's saved the facility from financial ruin so far is the cooperation of doctors, contractors and vendors who haven't pushed for payments, he said. "If we lose them, we lose the hospital," said Beus.
Three Crosses Regional Hospital opened in 2020 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and piled up a staggering $16.8 million in losses in just three quarters while receiving only $28,000 in aid, said Landon Fulmer, a Washington lobbyist working with all three hospitals to obtain additional funding. Each facility is being penalized for being new even though they provided the same costly COVID-19 care as other medical centers and lost revenue from other procedures including elective surgeries, he said.
"It really is quite a strange situation in a way, one that shouldn't have happened," Fulmer said.