ALAMOSA – Allowing medical professionals to diagnose potential COVID-19 cases without testing to confirm has recently become a point of contention in the San Luis Valley. An SLV Health hospital physician’s assistant (PA) claims the hospital is embellishing these diagnoses in order to receive government funding for COVID-19.
Konnie Martin, Chief Executive Officer of San Luis Valley Health refuted those claims in a statement on Wednesday:
“A video interview was brought to our attention that asserts hospitals in the San Luis Valley are directing Emergency Department providers to code and bill in a manner that would increase revenue when treating patients with potential COVID 19 diagnosis. These assertions are false. The statements made in this video are inaccurate, misleading, and untrue. “As your community partner, we have remained steadfast in our service during this pandemic. Our response to this crisis has always focused on two things:
• Caring for our community by providing essential healthcare services
• Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our team.” On May 4, the radio show “Thrivetime” uploaded an interview to You Tube with “whistleblower” Lindsay Blankenship. She has been a PA for nearly 12 years and said, “Honesty is my core.” For those who do not understand what a PA does, she explains, “I’ve spent the majority of my career in the ER, but it’s almost like the extension of a physician. So, a PA can do everything a physician can—except perform surgery on one’s own.”
Blankenship has been at working at SLV Health for about five years. According to her taped interview, coworkers received orders to include a COVID-19 code on their patient charts, based on the patient exhibiting both a fever and cough. “We have been instructed, or advised, to include a ‘COVID-like illness’ in the diagnosis, on our charts; if they have a fever and a cough.” Blankenship said.
“This completely goes against what a PA, or provider, is supposed to do when diagnosing. Which is, when we diagnose, we stick strictly to facts.” Though Blankenship has no knowledge of real numbers, national rumors tell of hospitals being reimbursed for COVID-19 patients. This leaves one to assume funding must be the motive for diagnosing COVID-19 cases without proof, she asserts, “especially considering SLV Health is struggling financially.” Blankenship warns the hospital is on the verge of going under, which Martin’s statement supports.
“While this pandemic has created financial hardship – for this organization and the entire community,” Martin offers optimism for the future. “We will return to our full potential through the honorable work of providing essential and appropriate healthcare services. We are SLV Strong and appreciate your support and partnership during this challenging time.” Rural hospitals already struggle to secure funding and due to COVID-19 SLV Health is actually experiencing at least a 25% decrease in the volume of emergency room patients
. National Public Radio (NPR) released an article on May 6 titled: “Eerie Emptiness Of ERs Worries Doctors: Where Are The Heart Attacks And Strokes?” The author describes this patient decline as a trend doctors have been tracking since the pandemic hit. “As the pandemic took hold, the number of patients showing up at hospitals with serious cardiovascular emergencies, such as strokes and heart attacks, shrunk dramatically.
Across the U.S., doctors call the dropoff staggering, unlike anything they’ve seen,” according to the article. “Across the country, ER volumes are down about 40-50 percent,” says Dr. William Jaquis, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “And they worry a new wave of patients is headed their way — people who have delayed care and will be sicker and more injured when they finally arrive in emergency rooms.” People are apparently wary of seeking medical attention – especially at hospitals – for fear of coming into contact with the virus.