The Wyoming Medical Center has prepared for the projected apex of the COVID-19 this week, it's looking to the future, and it's steeling itself to write off a lot of money for charity care, hospital officials said Tuesday.

"We are prepared, and we hope the surge passes us by so we can begin to reactivate our surgical schedule and elective procedure schedule and return to a 'new normal,'" CEO Michele Chulick told the trustees of the Memorial Hospital of Natrona County at its monthly teleconference.

The model for the surge of the disease in Wyoming is predicted to be this week from April 29 to May 3, and the hospital has been preparing for it, Chulick said.

As of Monday, the Wyoming Department of Health reported 389 confirmed cases of COVID-19 plus 131 probable cases, 39 cases in Natrona County, seven deaths, and 343 recovered cases.

The Wyoming Medical Center is entering its seventh week of dealing with COVID-19.

"We've prepared for this surge," Chulick said.

The hospital constructed a negative pressure area on the third floor to accommodate 11 additional intensive care patients, and that would bring the capacity to 28 to 30 intensive care patients that could be ventilated, she said.

The patient volumes and revenues at the Wyoming Medical Center, like hospitals nationwide, are down because of canceled elective surgeries and procedures, Chulick said. The hospital canceled the elective surgeries and procedures to conserve supplies such as masks and gowns needed to treat coronavirus patients.

Those cancelations reduced anticipated revenues by 25% to 35% in April, she said, but she did not say how much money that was.

The concerns about the coronavirus have led to a decline in people coming to the emergency room even if they may need immediate care for a heart attack or a respiratory illness not related to COVID-19, Chulick said.

The hospital set up a separate waiting area in the emergency room to segregate patients from those who may have COVID-19, she added. "You can social distance and you can get the care that you need in an environment that you can trust."

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the economy and employment, the hospital's Chief Financial Officer Gary Zmrhal said.

The hospital is helping people pay their bills on an installment plan, and Zmrhal said he's heard from people who will use their stimulus checks to pay their hospital bills.

Likewise, many people have applied for charity care, Zmrhal said.

Earlier this year, the hospital wrote off less charity care than anticipated, Zmrhal said.

"On March 10, the tables turned on us," he said.

In the first half of April alone, the Wyoming Medical Center wrote off $2.5 million in charity care, but all the numbers aren't in yet, Zmrhal said.

"You'll see an increase in March, a significant increase in April, we'll just wait to see what May and June bring," he said.

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The nonprofit Wyoming Medical Center Inc., was formed in 1986.

Until then, it was known as the Memorial Hospital of Natrona County, which was owned and operated by Natrona County. After the creation of the WMC, the county continued to own the physical plant of the hospital. The WMC leases the property from the county to perform health care. The WMC's rent, in effect, is to maintain the value of the physical plant and provide care for the indigent and prisoners at the county jail.

A five-member board of trustees -- called the Memorial Hospital of Natrona County -- is appointed by the Natrona County Commission and oversees the WMC's lease of the county's property.

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