Photo/Illutration A doctor in a dedicated ward for COVID-19 patients communicates with nurses through a transparent panel installed as a precaution against infections in Kawasaki’s Tama Ward on April 24. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Hospitals that have treated COVID-19 patients are facing a looming financial crisis as declines in other patients have led to plunges in profitability, a survey by a group of hospital associations showed.

The profitability of hospitals was minus 9.0 percent in April, down 10 percentage points from plus 1 percent recorded a year earlier, according to the survey conducted jointly by the Japan Hospital Association, the All Japan Hospital Association (AJHA) and the Association of Japanese Healthcare Corporations.

The situation was even worse for the 269 responding hospitals that have accepted patients infected with the novel coronavirus. Their profitability plummeted to minus 11.8 percent from the same period last year.

The hospital groups contacted their 4,332 member hospitals around the country for the emergency survey and received valid responses from 1,049. The preliminary results of the survey were released on May 18.

Profitability was calculated by dividing profits gained through medical services by medical service revenues, mainly those from inpatient and outpatient care.

Behind the plight of the hospitals is the drop in the number of visiting patients.

The number of new outpatients fell 40 percent in April from a year earlier. At hospitals that treated COVID-19 patients, the occupancy rate of beds in April declined more than 10 percentage points from the previous year to 67.1 percent.

Those with ailments that are not COVID-19 are refraining from seeing doctors to avoid being infected with the virus. In addition, fewer beds have been available for patients with diseases other than COVID-19 because hospitals have isolated each virus patient in a separate room.

The health ministry in April increased the amount of treatment fees paid to medical institutions that accepted COVID-19 patients under the national health insurance program. But the ministry has failed to fully cover the losses incurred by the hospitals.

“I’m worried that hospitals might become unable to deal with second and third waves of infections that are predicted to come,” Yuji Inokuchi, chair of the AJHA, said at a May 18 news conference.

Inokuchi said hospitals do not have enough cash reserves, and they may face a financial crisis as early as June.

At a separate news conference held the same day, medical officials said that 80 university hospitals around the country are projected to suffer an annual drop of 500 billion yen ($4.66 billion) in revenues based on estimates from their financial situation in April.