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Mass General Brigham reports COVID-related financial losses not as bad as expected

Ambulances pull up to Massachusetts General Hospital on April 20, 2020.    (Blake Nissen/ For The Boston Globe)
Ambulances pull up to Massachusetts General Hospital on April 20, 2020. (Blake Nissen/ For The Boston Globe)Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

The state’s largest hospital system on Friday reported the worst financial loss in its history while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic — but still ended the fiscal year in better shape than expected.

Mass General Brigham, formerly known as Partners HealthCare, lost $351 million on operations in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. In 2019, the system recorded a gain of $382 million.

The loss, however, is not as great as projected, thanks in part to an infusion of federal aid and patients returning to hospitals in large numbers after the first COVID surge receded.

“2020 is like no other year,” said Peter Markell, chief financial officer at Mass General Brigham, which includes Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and several community hospitals. “At the end of the day, we came out of this better than we thought we might.”

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Total revenue for the year remained relatively stable at about $14 billion.

When the pandemic first hit Massachusetts in March, hospitals across the state suddenly experienced sharp drops in revenue because they canceled so much non-COVID care to respond to the crisis at hand. They also faced new costs related to COVID, including the personal protective equipment needed to keep health care workers safe from infection.

Federal aid helped to make up much of the losses, including $546 million in grant money that went to Mass General Brigham. The nonprofit health system also slashed capital expenses in half, by about $550 million, and temporarily froze employee wages and cut their retirement benefits.

Among the unusual new costs for Mass General Brigham this year was the expense of building a field hospital, Boston Hope, at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The project cost $15 million to $20 million, Markell said, and Mass General Brigham is working to recoup those costs from government agencies.

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The second surge of COVID, now underway, could hit hospitals’ bottom lines again, though Markell expects a smaller impact this time. One reason is because hospitals are trying to treat most of the patients who need care for conditions other than COVID even while treating growing numbers of COVID patients. In the spring, hospitals canceled vastly more appointments and procedures in anticipation of the first wave of COVID.

Mass General Brigham hospitals were treating more than 300 COVID patients on Friday, among the more than 1,600 hospitalized across the state.

Steve Walsh, president of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, said hospitals across the state will need more federal aid as they continue battling COVID into the new year.

“The financial toll of COVID-19 has been felt by every hospital and health care organization in the Commonwealth,” he said. “Those challenges will continue during 2021.”


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.