After months of the pandemic lockdown, we have arrived at a decisive time. Communities around the country and around the globe are starting to take dramatic next steps as they try to move toward economic and social recovery. You cannot help but wonder how this time of isolation has changed us and how those changes will reshape the world that awaits us.
As an example, last week, I looked at the airline industry and recent announcements of what passengers can expect as the industry tries to lure travelers back into the fold. Not unexpectedly, they are banking on plane cleanliness as the draw. A new commercial by Delta Airlines has even introduced a new slogan for their efforts — “Delta clean.” As reported by the media and entertainment outlet Ozy, Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, is seen walking viewers through aircraft cleaning procedures while a worker with a fogging machine sprays powerful disinfectant throughout the cabin.
For this marketing strategy to work, passenger volume, which has the biggest impact on earnings, must improve dramatically and quickly. According to the International Air Transport Association, the aviation sector is expected to see losses of more than $300 billion in 2020. But besides overcoming health concerns, airlines have other obstacles with an important sector to which they have long dedicated prime space — business travelers.
During the lockdown, companies and entrepreneurs have become more adept and comfortable with virtual meetings and easy-to-use technology provided by Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. In the process, standards for business meetings have been forever changed. What will a company in reboot do when faced with what were once routine travel expenses? And how will these decisions impact the convention industry or hotel conference centers?
As businesses contemplate the return of workers to their desks, many employers are also reimagining the workplace. New hygiene rules are sure to be in effect. According to a New York Times report, “post-pandemic makeovers may include hand sanitizers built into desks that are positioned at 90-degree angles or that are enclosed by translucent plastic partitions.” According to the Times, these partitions are being marketed as “Cough and Sneeze Protection Screens” or “sneeze guards,” like those found in banks and grocery stores. Also, you can forget today’s open and collaborative workspaces; companies are said to be contemplating a return to an office design concept of the past: the cubicle.
“In the end, the solution for many employers may not be to spend a lot of money on outfitting their new office spaces, but rather simply having many employees continue to work at home, as a way to accomplish two goals: keeping people safe and saving money,” writes the Times.
What raises the greatest concern for me are our hospitals and medical centers. They are among the biggest employers in many cities and states. According to another New York Times report, during the coronavirus-induced recession, with spending down and significant job losses, more than 1.4 million jobs in the medical profession were lost last month.
“The shutdown of elective surgeries and other ‘nonessential’ medical care by federal and state officials during the pandemic has left the nation’s 5,200 hospitals, particularly in places where there have been relatively few infections, with idle clinics, vacant operating rooms and a dearth of patients,” reports Reed Abelson in the Times. According to some estimates, industry losses were said to total as much as $50 billion a month, largely the result of abandoned surgeries and procedures shown to provide a financial stream of revenue critical to staying open. Elective services can account for roughly half a hospital’s revenue, according to the Times.
“Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that even with so many in health care working tirelessly to combat COVID-19, job losses in the industry are second only to the leisure and hospitality sector,” the Stamford Advocate reports.
According to the Times, while Congress has provided $175 billion in relief to hospitals, much of the money has flowed to the biggest hospital systems. “Rural hospitals, already ill-equipped to deal with the virus, and hospitals serving low-income patients have received much less,” the Times noted.
It has been reported that hospitals are expecting to see some services resume before the end of their fiscal year, but amid the threat of more infection, it is hard to say how strong and swift the response will be.
“The places that will lose (the) more revenue are the ones that did everything right,” Stephen Klasko, CEO of Jefferson Health, a health system in the Philadelphia region, explains to CNBC. “They stopped elective surgery earlier in the spring; they paid for the inflated costs of medical supplies for their staff and rolled out testing as soon as they could.”
“If hospitals can’t start earning revenue, they will close,” Christopher Kerns, an executive with Advisory Board, a consulting unit owned by UnitedHealth Group, tells the Times.
“While hospitals are struggling financially, health insurers are seeing a bump in profits,” reports CNBC. “As people delay elective surgeries and avoid preventative care during the pandemic, declines in spending have more than offset the added costs of paying for COVID-19 care.”
May 12 was International Nurses Day, a celebration of the birthday of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. The sad irony to all this is that hospitals that have treated large numbers of coronavirus patients may have the hardest time convincing people to come in for routine treatments and surgeries. How tragic it would be if we allow an unfounded fear to cause those who have selflessly done so much to save us to possibly lose everything.