PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Elective surgeries pay the bills. For many community hospitals in our area, the coronavirus pandemic means empty beds, staff furloughs and financial distress.

KDKA’s Meghan Schiller talked to Louis Panza, President and Chief Executive Officer at Monongahela Valley Hospital, about what he’s doing to keep the hospital afloat.

“Elective surgeries are the bread and butter of community hospitals,” said Panza.

He’s optimistic Monday while standing in his hospital’s nearly empty Emergency Room parking lot.

Elective surgeries picked back up on Monday. It might seem like a simple colonoscopy or knee scope, but for this hospital, it’s the difference between being in debt and making money.

“We’ve really been quite slow waiting for the surge that thank God has actually not come to Washington County,” said Panza.

He said money is tight, but he hopes a $15 million cash loan from the state helps the hospital get through this “major cash crush.”

KDKA’s Meghan Schiller asked him what $15 million dollars means in terms of his hospital’s finances.

“Fifteen million dollars is probably about one month’s cost of operating a hospital of our size,” said Panza.

The hospital lost precious revenue when the state ordered it to stop nonessential procedures. Panza furloughed 10 percent of his staff — roughly 100 people. Other staff members decided to voluntarily take a leave of absence.

“Eliminating elective surgeries like colonoscopies, total orthopedic joints and things like that — we’ve been very, very slow. It probably represents 80 percent of our surgery,” said Panza.

That’s a big hit for a hospital with a 0.03 operating margin, he said. Plus, buying personal protective equipment or PPE for 1,300 doctors, nurses and staff isn’t cheap.

“We’ve seen the cost go up by five and 10 times what we normally would pay for it, but with such a shortage, it was a sellers market,” said Panza.

State Senator Camera Bartolotta said this hospital prepped for an influx of patients that never came.

“There are boards in many of these windows,” said Bartolotta. “They went from one negative pressure room to 14 in preparation for what might have been a massive influx of COVID 19 patients — all of that costs, tens and tens of thousands of dollars.”

She doesn’t want the one hospital in her constituents’ back yard teetering on the brink of financial collapse: “Without this hospital here in this community, these people are going to need to travel 35 minutes to the next hospital in this area. How is that going to happen?”

Panza hopes this week — week 8 — marks a turning point for the hospital. He doesn’t want people to be scared to come to the hospital for these elective procedures.

Both he and State Senator Bartolotta are optimistic that people will now schedule the procedures so the hospital can get out of the red, and pay back the $15 million loan, in the coming months.

Meghan Schiller