Vietnam hospitals in financial distress as COVID-19 drives patients away

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Vietnam hospitals in financial distress as COVID-19 drives patients away

Hospitals in Vietnam have seen a sharp decrease in patient numbers. Photo: Duong Lieu / Tuoi Tre

Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic has sent lots of hospitals in Vietnam into financial difficulty caused by sharp declines in the number of patients, with some seeing drops in in-hospital stays of up to 50 percent.

Although most socio-economic activities have resumed after many severe outbreaks since early 2020, patient numbers at hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City have yet to rebound.

The number of patients seeking health check-ups has reached 80 percent but that of hospitalizations at some hospitals stands at just around 50 percent against pre-pandemic levels.

It was anticipated that patient numbers post-pandemic could far exceed the pre-pandemic figures, considering expectations that more people would go to hospitals to make up for a long time they could not receive in-person medical services due to the impact of the pandemic, said Diep Bao Tuan, deputy director of the Oncology Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

However, the reality is different because patients might still be afraid of being exposed to COVID-19 when visiting medical centers.

The fall in patient numbers has resulted in a drop in hospitalizations, partly due to a requirement that patients and their caregivers get a negative COVID-19 testing result to be eligible for hospital admission.

As shared by Tran Van Khanh, director of Le Van Thinh Hospital in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, patient volumes at his hospital have significantly recovered compared to the beginning of the fourth coronavirus wave, which hit Vietnam in late April last year, but the number of outpatients is just equal to 85 percent of the pre-pandemic level.

Once the pandemic further eases in the upcoming time, the number of patients is expected to bounce back, Khanh added.

Given fewer patients, the income of medical workers at the hospital contracted by 15 percent, Khanh continued.

To cope with the situation, Le Van Thinh Hospital took some temporary measures.

It has provided medical services for patients under home-based treatment, mainly those having health insurance, and dispatched some healthcare workers from those wards facing steep drops in patient numbers to businesses to offer medical check-ups to their employees, said Khanh.

The patient volume declines have also partially prompted some local hospitals to delay pay for healthcare workers.

A cashier counter area at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi sees no more queuing and hustling as before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Photo: Duong Lieu / Tuoi Tre

A cashier counter area at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi sees no more queuing and hustling like before the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Duong Lieu / Tuoi Tre

Being given financial autonomy from June 2019, Tue Tinh Hospital, under the Vietnam University of Traditional Medicine (VUTM), encountered financial hurdles when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

The hospital began facing a revenue deficit when it became financially independent, according to VUTM director Nguyen Quoc Huy.

As of September last year, its debts had surpassed VND18 billion (US$788,290), leading to its default on pay for employees.

At the National Lung Hospital, its director Nguyen Viet Nhung said the number of inpatients at the hospital during the peak of the pandemic last year plunged by up to 70 percent.

Before the health crisis, the hospital provided medical treatment for 1,000 tuberculosis patients, but the figure then fell to around 800 following the appearance of the coronavirus in the country.

During the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, there was a time when the hospital was treating 200 tuberculosis patients only.

Currently, 400 inpatients are under medical treatment at the hospital, said Nhung.

As fewer patients visited the hospital for tuberculosis testing and treatment, detection of the disease in the community became a tough issue.

Nhung said tuberculosis is also an infectious disease like COVID-19 but it is not given proper attention, thereby posing a higher risk of community transmission amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similarly, at other hospitals in Hanoi, the impact of the pandemic has jeopardized their revenues.

Bach Mai Hospital, one of the largest hospitals nationwide, witnessed a decrease in patient volume.

In late March 2020, it was put under lockdown for 14 days as nine COVID-19 cases were detected at the hospital.

A host of virus control measures being adopted since then slashed the volume of patients visiting the hospital.

Bach Mai Hospital then constantly made efforts to improve its medical services.

It installed high-capacity heaters outside the infirmary for caregivers in January this year, when Hanoi was in winter.

In June 2021 when the scorching weather hit the northern region, the hospital set up a misting system at zones designated for patients and caregivers, among many other supportive measures.

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