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Hagedorn: Open hospitals to public again

FAIRMONT — Congressman Jim Hagedorn of southern Minnesota had no idea that he had kidney cancer when he went to see his doctor for a routine visit in early 2019. But that checkup likely saved his life.

Hagedorn has subsequently been undergoing immunotherapy and says he is doing well. In fact, he is running for re-election this year.

Given his own experience, Hagedorn has become an advocate for reopening the nation’s hospitals and health care facilities to the general public amid the COVID-19 epidemic. He recently sent a letter, along with nine House colleagues, to the chairman of the National Governors Association, Larry Hogan, R-Md., encouraging states to establish guidelines for such a reopening.

“We remain deeply concerned that the medical needs of Americans are being neglected and those in immediate need of life-saving treatment or surgery are one day closer to a terminal diagnosis or even death,” the lawmakers wrote. “For this reason, we believe a new strategy must be implemented to care for COVID-19 cases, while reopening medical facilities across the nation that are not dealing with high surge rates to residents in need of tests, surgeries, treatments and general consultations.”

Hagedorn said the numbers and insights of medical experts are backing up the argument. He cited statistics from a recent White House press briefing:

o The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration saw a 1,000 percent increase in hotline responses in April;

o Screenings for three common types of cancer were down 86 percent in April and 94 percent in March;

o Projections show that potentially more than 80,000 diagnoses of five common types of cancer will be missed from March to the beginning of June;

o Medical professionals across the country are expressing concern that patients exhibiting symptoms of heart attack and stroke are not seeking treatment; and,

o 75,000 Americans are at risk of suicide and substance abuse due to the pandemic.

“The fact that tens of thousands of Americans will go undiagnosed with cancer over the next several months is tragic and heartbreaking,” Hagedorn said. “As someone whose life has been saved due to an accidental and unexpected medical diagnosis and prompt cancer treatment, I know firsthand the personal and public health dangers that come with people avoiding critical consultations and diagnostic tests out of fear from COVID-19.”

Health care providers are facing a correlated financial crisis. According to recent reporting by the Associated Press:

COVID-19 worries have kept patients away from doctors’ offices and forced the postponement and cancellation of non-urgent surgeries. The pandemic also has shut down large portions of the American economy, leaving many would-be patients without insurance or in a financial pinch that makes them curb spending.

All of this has forced hospitals, health systems and doctors to lay off staff, cut costs and hope a return to normal arrives soon.

In many cases, hospitals that lose those profitable surgeries are gaining COVID-19 patients — and losing money on them. Those patients may require hospitals to expand intensive care units, spend more on infection control and stock up on gowns and masks, among other items.

The American Hospital Association estimated in a recent report that the nation’s hospitals and health systems will collectively lose more than $36 billion from March to June treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

When adding factors like lost revenue from postponed surgeries, the total balloons to more than $200 billion, said the association. Congress has set aside about $175 billion so far to help hospitals and other care providers, but the hospital association says more assistance is needed.

There has been some movement on the issue in the Fairmont area. Mayo Clinic Health System in Minnesota announced May 5 that it would begin to resume elective visits, procedures and surgeries on May 11.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz decided May 5 to allow health care providers to take such action.

In March, Mayo locations in Minnesota deferred all elective care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, initial modeling projected a surge that would exceed capacity for hospital and intensive care unit beds and ventilators. Mayo also had a limited amount of personal protective equipment and testing capabilities.

Mayo said that upon careful review of patient needs and its practice, it chose to resume elective visits.

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