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Open Letter to Our Community
April 16, 2020

Open Letter to Our Community

The following is a letter that The Morning Call refused to publish in its opinion section.

Wardog Spirits

By Richard A. Anderson
President & CEO, St. Luke’s University Health Network

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” said Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama. It seems The Morning Call has taken this dictate to heart, perversely exploiting a global pandemic to cast aspersions upon our hospitals and by extension the doctors, nurses, other caregivers and hospital staff who are working tirelessly and risking their lives daily to care for COVID-19 patients.

On Sunday March 29, The Morning Call published an article titled: “Do hospitals need $100 billion bailout to get through coronavirus pandemic?”

I am not a journalist, but even I know that a question mark after a headline is a red flag. The article that follows is likely to be – as was certainly the case in this instance – an opinion piece masquerading as objective journalism. According to the latest government predictions, the COVID-19 death toll in our country will be in the tens of thousands. At the time I initially drafted this rebuttal, the estimate was in the hundreds of thousands. I guess this fact was overlooked by the reporter.

The article quoted university professors who say hospitals have billions of dollars in reserves – enough to last years! Where are the perspectives of other experts in the field such as hospital executives, chief financial officers, economists and those with other perspectives?

Someone please tell me, on what planet do these professors live? Clearly not one where there is an understanding of income statements, balance sheets, bills to pay and payrolls to meet. Here on Planet Earth, hospitals maintain reserves because they are necessary to sustain day-to-day operations in times of financial distress and to meet emergencies. When an organization, including a hospital, exhausts its revenues and does not make a profit from operations, it will go out of business, whether it is a church, the Boy Scouts, Amazon, Apple or Bethlehem Steel.

“Anytime there’s a crisis, everybody has their hands out,” carped one of the professors. Who exactly is he referring to? Perhaps he thinks he is referring to health care systems but not to the doctors, nurses and other caregivers who work within these systems. This is a false dichotomy. I can assure you that at St. Luke’s, every employee is considered a valuable member of our St. Luke’s family. Some family members are doctors, nurses, managers, environmental workers, food service workers, receptionists, etc. All our St. Luke’s family are essential and play a critical role, working together as a team to provide the best health care to our patients.

To callously suggest that that Lehigh Valley’s health systems would exploit this COVID-19 epidemic for financial gain demonstrates a shocking degree of either ignorance or contempt on their part. I am many things, but not naïve after more than 45 years in health care. I was under the impression newspapers were supposed to hold themselves to a higher standard than the dark corners of the Internet where misinformation and cynicism are the norm.

Our hospitals’ doctors, nurses and other caregivers are the first responders of this current 9/11 crisis. They are serving valiantly and selflessly on the frontlines in a war against a deadly, invisible enemy, COVID-19. I could not be more humbled to witness daily their commitment, sacrifice and bravery. They are my heroes and deserve our gratitude, not cheap shots from the cheap seats of the academic equivalent of armchair quarterbacks who pretend to play in this health care arena. What may pass as knowledge and learning in the classroom is not always appropriate for the real world in which most of us live, particularly in the current world of this epidemic/pandemic.

Especially now, the Lehigh Valley is incredibly fortunate to have not one, but two health care systems at the top of their game. Either of these two networks employs more people in the region than any other business, providing tens of thousands of family-sustaining jobs that help to underpin the region’s economy. We should be reminded that not-for-profit health systems that perform well in a good year have operating margins that are between 3 and 5% at best – a narrow margin that is utilized to reinvest those dollars into equipment, technology, salaries and other critical necessities.

To be candid, COVID-19 has affected hospitals like a giant meteor hitting New York City. As St. Luke’s has prepared to care for a potentially overwhelming surge of critically ill patients, COVID-19 has severely curtailed the essentials of the economics of our business platform, such as elective surgery and emergency room visits, that subsidize a portion of our operations. Across the country, hospitals are now facing the prospect of unprecedented financial losses that threaten their continued existence and resulting care to all Americans.

When I read The Morning Call’s latest “hit piece,” it struck me as another example of shoddy journalism, which is uncalled for at this time, not only in our Valley, but across our country. Never being at a loss for words, a few came to my mind: “MORE FAKE NEWS!”