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Colorado lawmakers propose bill to help Denver Health with volatile finances

Senate Bill 23-138 would appropriate $5 million from state's general fund to the hospital.
Denver Health
Posted at 10:28 PM, Feb 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 00:28:26-05

DENVER — Colorado lawmakers are taking “extraordinary” measures to help stabilize Denver Health’s finances by appropriating $5 million in funding.

The hospital reported $34 million in operating losses last year, which officials attribute to uncompensated care and higher cost of care.

“To me, this is both a state as well as a city crisis, quite frankly,” Denver Health CEO Donna Lynne said.

Denver Health says uncompensated care doubled between 2020 and 2022 to $120 million dollars. Much of that comes from treating patients who are uninsured and unhoused.

Lynne says their unhoused patients come in for a variety of issues, including substance abuse, mental health services, injuries and illness. Once they are treated, they have nowhere to go to recover.

“We might take care of an acute problem — I like to use frostbite as an example — and then we have a dilemma on our hands: Do we discharge them knowing they are vulnerable and could get frostbite or other things? Or do we keep them?” Lynne said.

Denver Health is asking the City of Denver and the state to solve the problem by providing housing with health care services.

“We could save both the state, because it pays for Medicaid, and the city money if we weren't able to have people taken care of in a more appropriate level of care, not in a hospital,” Lynne said.

RELATED: Colorado hospitals, the state tell different stories about profits

Denver Health is unique in that it is one of the few safety net hospitals in the state, which may explain why about one-third of its patients come from outside Denver.

“Part of our mission, and our sort of governing documents say, we are to take care of people regardless of their ability to pay. So yes, we do attract a lot of patients,” Lynne said.

Denver Health says federal COVID-19 funding, which was helping the hospital, dried up. The cost of care has also increased because nurses are leaving the profession for less stressful jobs.

The hospital spent more than $50 million in 2022 on contract labor, hiring travel nurses to fill the gaps.

The Colorado legislature has fast tracked a bill — Senate Bill 23-138 — to appropriate $5 million from the state's general fund to Denver Health. It is still working its way through the legislature.

The hospital says it's cutting back and has a plan to break even by 2024.

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