On Friday, May 8th, 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs report for the month of April. The BLS reported that 20.5 million jobs were lost in April. The scale of the job losses, as measured by the diffusivity index, was 4.8 in April, 28.5 in March, and 53.7 in February. A number below 50 indicates widespread loss, where a number above 50 indicates job growth – the closer a number is to 0, the higher the number of industries affected by job loss. Of those 20.5 million lost, nearly 1.4 million were healthcare jobs. Hospitals and public health centers have dealt with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by slashing non-essential services, effectively shutting down everything but the emergency room. As a result of these measures, medical workers across the practices have felt the contraction. Dentist offices reported 503,000 jobs lost, with physician’s offices reporting 243,000, and other health-related practices reporting 205,000.
As a result of these reductions, critical services have been put on hold. Surveys of electronic medical records (EMRs) have shown a 40% reduction in childhood immunizations between late February and mid-April. Using the flu vaccine as a lens, this represents a $2 billion loss. This reduction illustrates an at-risk population for other infectious diseases, outside of COVID-19, such as polio and measles. Much of this reduction is attributed to patient perceptions of safety, as parents do not feel safe to bring their children into waiting rooms with stagnant air and enclosed spaces. In an effort to provide immunizations, physicians have started delivering car side vaccinations and requiring incoming patients to wear face masks in the waiting room. Overall, immunization reduction, at this scale, will compound existing problems healthcare and public health centers will be facing as they transition into a post COVID world.
Because of social distancing measures and stay at home orders, telemedicine has been discussed as a method to democratize healthcare. As has often been touted in the post-information revolution, digital-based services will bridge the divide. However, as COVID-19 has made all too apparent, a digital divide exists between those with internet access and those without. Coupling the digital divide to the long-term impacts of healthcare-related job losses, it is clear that patient outcomes and quality of care standards will suffer. In times of recession, job loss is temporary as long as the duration is less than a month. Our current situation has us coming up on 11 weeks.
With general estimates of a vaccine for COVID-19 becoming available twelve to eighteen months from now, the general economic collapse that is being witnessed will continue. Hospitals and public health centers are currently financially exhausted, with 249 of the nation’s major hospital networks reporting issues with maintaining payroll as well as supply provisioning. Taken together, financial assistance programs must be rolled out by both fiscal and monetary policymakers for medical centers to avoid secondary and tertiary infections from diseases. However, fiscal policymakers, namely those in the Northern Wing of Capitol Hill, should make concerted efforts to capitalize public health and medical centers. The financial scale of this crisis requires balancing from both the Federal Reserve, which is delivering and the Congress, which is not.