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story.lead_photo.caption This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes covid-19. - Photo by NIAID-RML via AP

A Monticello hospital has returned an $8.8 million federal payment from a fund meant to support health providers during the coronavirus pandemic, after its officials realized they had received money "erroneously."

The multimillion-dollar mishap underscores experts' calls for oversight of the distribution of $175 billion in funding meant to support hospitals and health entities in the crisis.

Drew Memorial Hospital chief executive Scott Barrilleaux said administrators were "shocked" to receive the $8.8 million deposit earlier this month, which arrived just after a $3.8 million payment the hospital had received as a rural facility.

"I got to work the next day, and there was another big payment in our account," he said. "We weren't expecting to get that much money."

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Barrilleaux traced the mix-up to information the hospital was supposed to provide to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Officials submitted figures including "probable" as well as confirmed coronavirus cases, he said.

That was an error, but it pushed them over a threshold that qualified providers for a share of $12 billion in targeted payments for facilities hit hard by the outbreak.

With the Monticello hospital's return of the money, no hospitals in Arkansas were included in that "high impact" allotment. More than 1,400 providers recently received payments from $50 billion in other relief grants, federal data shows.

Barrilleaux said the incident was a new experience, because "we never received $8.8 million, and we never had to give $8.8 million back before -- so that was two things that happened back to back."

A spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department said in an email this week that the department had been clear that hospitals should submit information on confirmed coronavirus admissions from Jan. 1 to April 10.

Asked how the department planned to verify a facility's number of cases, she said providers had to agree to terms to accept money, and violating those terms is grounds to "recoup some or all of the funding."

Lawmakers marked $175 billion across two federal pandemic relief packages to help health providers purchase supplies and blunt revenue losses as they experienced service cancellations.

The 49-bed Drew Memorial, for example, lost more than $1 million each month in March and April. Its administrators expect it to be at least August before things return to their baseline, though the situation is in flux, Barrilleaux said.

"We thought maybe we were at the end of the covid trail -- but it seems like every day we've got people that we're testing."

While the Health and Human Services Department has stressed the need to move quickly and keep providers afloat, policy experts have raised concerns about how the distributions are tracked. The inspector general overseeing the department last week announced audits of it first payouts to medical providers.

On Sunday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the distribution of tens of thousands of dollars in such funding to three Arkansas nursing homes that closed last year, months before the state's first coronavirus case was identified in March.

Metro on 05/29/2020

Print Headline: Hospital returns to U.S. $8.8M received in error

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