OHSU’s Pandemic Economic Woes Largely Over

OHSU aerial view OHSU Aaron Bieleck.jpg

Oregon and the nation are still reeling from COVID-19, but Oregon Health & Science University has largely recovered from the pandemic’s financial hit, the latest budget report shows.

Aggregate patient activity -- total patient charges -- for July-December 2020 was off just 1.5% from the same period in 2019, noted CFO Lawrence Furnstahl in his report to the board of directors for its meeting slated for Thursday. OHSU recorded a profit of $49 million for the latest six months, compared with the $7 million loss it had budgeted, Furnstahl added.

Meanwhile, the flagship institution is moving ahead on “making OHSU an anti-racist organization,” the institution’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion said in a report to the board. The center enacted a policy that requires all members of admissions committees that oversee admission of students to OHSU programs to receive training in “unconscious bias and antiracism.” Also, OHSU will have faculty members monitor admissions committees that are outside their academic programs to make sure the panels follow “principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.” Some black and other minority employees, who have lambasted OHSU, saying it enables racism, were not persuaded that the new policy would have much effect.

Financially, OHSU is rebounding more quickly than expected, Furnstahl wrote.

At $49 million, the operating profit for July-December was closing in on the $60 million profit for the same period a year earlier.

Total patient charges for December actually topped by 1.2% the total patient charges for December 2019, according to the report.

To boot, OHSU’s enormous cushion of cash and investments continues to grow.

OHSU in 2020 received over $90 million from the federal government under the CARES Act, which OHSU booked as non-operating profit, meaning it is in addition to the operating profit, according to Furnstahl’s memo. Plus, OHSU received $200 million in interest-free loans from the federal government to help it through the pandemic.

With its finances recovering briskly, OHSU in December restored the salary cuts it imposed on some staff and faculty in July-September, Furnstahl said. That expense is included in the July-December financial results.

The federal CARES payments to hospitals nationwide have been criticized by some observers as unnecessary given the investment portfolios many hospital systems already hold. OHSU and its foundation have reserves totaling roughly $3 billion.

OHSU still crimped on its spending somewhat in the July-December period: spending on non-medical supplies and services was down sharply, and OHSU did not give merit increases to faculty and managers.

“OHSU has preserved its underlying financial position, providing a firm platform to build back to where revenues cover both operations and new investments in people, programs and places on a sustainable basis,” Furnstahl concluded.

Anti-Racism And Unconscious Bias

On its anti-racism work, the Center for Diversity & Inclusion said its new policy on admissions committees, enacted in November, will create a “pool of trained observers” to report on the panels.

OHSU has increased its faculty recruitment package to $75,000, from $50,000 to try to attract faculty who are part of the BIPOC community comprising Blacks, indigenous people and people of color, wrote Derick Du Vivier, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The new policy defines anti-racism as “combating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies, practices and attitudes in order to promote racial justice and ensure that power is redistributed and shared equitably,” and says that unconscious bias stems from “a social stereotype about certain groups of people” that affect our interactions and decisions.

Some members of OHSU's faculty say that anti-bias training -- which is not new at the institution -- will do little to solve OHSU’s racist bent.

"What has the previous three years of training on unconscious bias accomplished?" asked one source who requested anonymity. "Black and Latino employees continue to depart OHSU, and that’s when they are even given employment opportunities. More training is not what is needed. Holding those accountable for racist behavior, and a change in leadership is what is needed."

You can reach Christian Wihtol at [email protected].


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