RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Some North Carolina leaders are now calling out the state’s largest hospital systems, including Duke, UNC and WakeMed, for making record profits during the pandemic and not spending enough on patient care.
State treasurer Dale Folwell invited researchers from the National Academy for State Health Policy to look into the spending. According to the report released Wednesday, the seven largest systems recorded $5.2 billion in net profits last year and $7.1 billion in cash and investments from 2019 to 2021.
The hospitals also took $1.5 billion in COVID relief funds meant for struggling hospitals, namely those in rural communities.
Meanwhile, charity care spending fell across many hospitals in 2020 and the report says some hospitals increased billing of poor patients eligible for charity care.
“You should care about the massive transfer of wealth that’s going on in this state, from the citizens to these multibillion-dollar nonprofits,” Folwell said.
CBS 17 reached out to the Triangle’s hospital systems for a response.
Part of UNC Health’s statement said:
Without federal pandemic relief funds, many of the rural hospitals in North Carolina – including several in the UNC Health network – would have struggled to remain financially viable and open to serve their communities amid interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Treasurer’s charged and misleading report paints a baseless picture of excess relief funds as “profit” and seems to intentionally obscure the fact that advanced Medicare payments were not gifts – UNC Health has already paid the federal government back almost all of the $305 million it received from advance Medicare payments.
UNC Health is committed to finding innovative ways to reduce costs and enhance care, as part of our mission of improving the health and well-being of all North Carolinians. In addition, we have provided more than $400 million in uncompensated or charity care to North Carolinians over the past three years and have one of the state’s most generous financial assistance policies.
Part of a statement from Duke Health officials said:Duke University Health System is a non-profit health system dedicated to caring for and promoting the health and well-being of the communities and patients we serve. Our financial commitment to these critical efforts is demonstrated in many ways, as detailed in our community benefit statement published annually on our website and in financial filings.
Our COVID response measures occurred while many regular hospital and clinical services were halted or slowed. Federal resources were allocated to help offset the financial impact of those business interruptions, and helped DUHS keep all 25,000 staff members fully employed.
It is worth noting that Duke Health did not lay off or furlough any staff members despite the significant disruptions in normal business operations and the extraordinary demands presented by the pandemic.
While the COVID relief funds have been helpful in easing the negative financial impacts of the pandemic, they have not offset the lost revenues and additional expenses attributed to the measures taken to care for the communities we serve.
Part of WakeMed’s statement said:
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a long lasting impact on many of our services—yet WakeMed continues to adapt and respond in order to better meet the needs of our community and deliver on our mission of improving the health and well-being of those we serve.
Since 2020, WakeMed has incurred significant costs related to the pandemic. Many system operations came to a halt while services, like surgeries and physician office and Emergency Department visits, were significantly curtailed as WakeMed cared for the community.
Operational funds were used to pay for higher cost resources like PPE and medical supplies, medications, COVID testing, vaccine infrastructure, and rising labor demands—all necessary expenses to support patient care, safety, and staff needs during the pandemic.
Though COVID-19 impacted every aspect of hospital operations and revenue, WakeMed continued to care for our patients, our staff, and our community like never before. Our COVID response efforts ensured patient care and quality did not suffer while at the same time avoiding furloughs, administering nearly 200,000 doses of vaccine, and providing access to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.