There’s a new C. diff in town and it’s a superbug designed to kill with ease. There’s also a new federal healthcare law rolling in that’s stripping away the very defenses hospitals may have to fight it — money.

Mark Heller, president of Hygiene Performance Solutions Inc., a North American consulting firm devoted to helping hospital environmental services agencies improve their cleaning programs, says his clients are seeing occupancy go up as budgets go down because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is pulling the excess out of the system.

“In the good old days, hospitals operated around 70 percent capacity,” he says. “Today, all of that redundant capacity is being sucked out of the system, and it’s driving occupancy up, which is putting the squeeze on budgets.”

NBC’s “Meet the Press” recently invited Dr. Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, to discuss the ACA’s impact on hospitals.  His comments mirrored Heller’s.

“…Everybody is going to get paid less,” Cosgrove warned. “So there is going to be less money in the…organization. We’ve got to learn to be more efficient.”

His words presented both a warning and a solution to hospitals facing ACA-brought financial challenges. Improving efficiency is the goal hospital environmental services departments must fixate on.

The reality is the impact of the ACA is already being felt across the nation, as hospitals look to every department, including environmental services, to trim their costs. The 886-bed Mercy Hospital Springfield, Mo., for instance, is already feeling the pinch of budget constraints caused by reduced reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA, reports Environmental Services Director Douglas Green.

“We have taken 20 FTEs (full-time equivalents) out of our operation,” he says. “While I don’t know all the ins and outs of the healthcare act, it definitely affects hospitals across the board, and every department has to adjust how they perform their roles.”

But while some may be wringing their hands over the financial conundrum they face, Green is not one of them. He believes that in spite of budgetary constraints, hospitals still must meet the standards set by the Hospital Care Assurance Program (HCAP), and without funding, improving efficiency is the only way they can.

“You have to look at where you can be more efficient, and ways to improve while leaving patient care alone,” he says.

RONNIE GARRETT is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

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