Last week, California’s legislature passed a bill establishing the Distressed Hospital Loan Program, which will dole out $150M in interest-free emergency loans to struggling nonprofit hospitals in the state which meet specific eligibility criteria, including operating in an underserved area and serving a large share of Medicaid beneficiaries. A combination of state agencies will establish a specific methodology for selection, but hospitals that are part of a health system with more than two separately licensed hospital facilities will be ineligible.
Hospitals receiving loans must provide a plan for how they will use the loans to achieve financial sustainability, and must pay back the money within six years.
The Gist: With twenty percent of the state’s hospitals at risk of shuttering, California lawmakers are hoping to provide the most vulnerable hospitals an alternative to either closure or consolidation, an example other states may follow. But unlike the Paycheck Protection Program loans that shored up businesses through the pandemic’s initial disruption, the outlook for small, struggling, independent hospitals isn’t expected to improve in coming years, even if the economy recovers.
Whether these loans provide lifelines or merely serve as Band-Aids on an untenable situation will depend on whether recipient hospitals can use them to restructure their operating models to absorb increased labor costs amid stagnating volumes and commercial reimbursement.
If these loans aren’t used for transformation, they will only delay the inevitable: more closures, and more mergers to find shelter in scale.