Private hospitals say Covid-19 inflicting financial pain

By Le Cam   September 1, 2021 | 05:54 am PT
Private hospitals say Covid-19 inflicting financial pain
A Covid-19 patient is seen at FV Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of FV Hospital
The surging number of Covid-19 patients is financially hurting HCMC private hospitals who are not allowed to charge money for treating the disease.

With nearly 300 Covid-19 patients and mounting losses, CEO of Nam Saigon Hospital, Dang Van Thanh, said has thought about closing down the facility.

"But that would be too cruel," he said. "We in the healthcare industry cannot deny our responsibility to the society."

He decided to keep the hospital open and started taking in more patients since early August, with the goal of saving as many lives as possible.

The hospital has mobilized 300 staff and spent big on equipment, including ventilators that costs VND600-800 million ($26-35 million) apiece, high flow oxygen concentrators at VND150 million apiece, and a extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine that costs VND5 billion.

It has discharged 100 Covid-19 patients to date. Every day it provides 100 free PCR tests for Binh Chanh District residents and sends staff to vaccination points or to state-owned ambulance teams.

Care for a Covid-19 patient costs the hospital an average of VND5-10 million a day. For severely ill patients the figure could go up to VND20-50 million, and some stay there for one to two months.

These costs have caused major financial difficulties for Nam Saigon, which spends around VND1 billion a day on equipment, staff and interest on loans, but it cannot charge Covid-19 patients for their treatment, as directed by the government.

"There is so much pressure. I sign expenses first thing in the morning. There are times when medicine bills are three or four times the normal, but still we have to buy them to save patients," Thanh said.

Even with donations from friends and the public, the hospital’s loss since it began treating Covid-19 patients is estimated at VND3-10 billion.

The FV Hospital with 70 Covid-19 patients is facing similar difficulties.

It has to rent over 100 apartments for staff to stay in isolation. There are times when 200 of its 1,300 staff have to be isolated.

Expenses in equipment and medicines are also a burden. "But we are giving top priority to our patients," said a hospital spokesperson.

Some other private hospitals like the Xuyen A Hospital, the Hoan My Thu Duc International General Hospital, the Trieu An Hospital, the Tam Duc Heart Hospital and the Gia An 115 Hospital are also struggling to keep operations going as expenses rise without corresponding revenue.

HCMC has recently petitioned the central government to allow private hospitals to charge Covid-19 patients for their care.

These hospitals often have to incur higher expenses in equipment, medicines and staff salary than state-owned facilities, and many patients and their families are willing to pay for treatment, the city said.

Vo Duy Thinh, 44, is one of the clients willing to pay. He was surprised to find that a 14-day Covid-19 treatment at Nam Saigon for his 66-year-old mother was completely free.

"I know the hospital faces difficulties so I asked my friends and family to donate," he said, adding that those who can should pay for treatment so those who cannot can enjoy free services.

Pham Thi Huyen, CEO of a private company, shared this view after having two of her colleagues treated for free at a hospital.

She said: "Many people are willing to pay. The government should regulate payment for Covid-19 treatment."

HCMC, the epicenter of Vietnam's fourth Covid wave, has reported nearly 227,000 infections so far.

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