DeWine Issues Orders for Hospitals, Commercial Lenders

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — In a pair of orders issued Wednesday, Gov. Mike DeWine has taken steps to ensure faster turnaround of COVID-19 tests while helping small-business owners hit hard by the pandemic.

In an executive order signed during his daily update on Wednesday, DeWine issued a plea to lenders and landlords across Ohio to work with small-business owners to suspend payments for at least 90 days. The order would provide some relief to entrepreneurs who have been hurting and “have had to make tough choices,” DeWine said.

“We also know our small-business owners are resilient. They are no strangers to hard work and to sacrifice,” he said.

The goal of the order, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said, is to stop the spread of foreclosures during the coronavirus pandemic, likening foreclosures to COVID-19 itself, the disease spread by the coronavirus.

While the federal government has stopped foreclosures on residential mortgages with a 12-month forbearance, and Ohio has granted courts in the state the ability to suspend evictions through July, “there is a connectivity to all of this” with regard to companies that own apartment complexes, Husted said.

If a resident can’t pay their rent and aren’t being evicted for that, the people who own the apartment complex don’t have the money they need to pay on their commercial mortgage, he explained. “This effects everyone from small businesses to tenants and so forth,” he said. The order creates a 90-day deferral to get lenders to put those payments on the back end of the customer’s loan.

“If we do this right, if we hit that pause button, everybody in the process will get a chance to get through this, particularly for small businesses who will want to keep that cash in their pockets to keep their employees hired and have that money to restart their business,” Husted said. “Frankly, this will have a huge impact on what happens when we try to restart things.”

In a prepared statement, Pat Tiberi, president and CEO of the Ohio Business Roundtable, commended DeWine and Husted for the order.

“On behalf of the CEO members who make up the Ohio Business Roundtable, I would like to thank Governor DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted for their leadership in issuing this Executive Order addressing commercial evictions and foreclosures,” Tiberi said in the statement. “This order rightly sends the message to lenders and landlords to hit the pause button during this health crisis that is quickly becoming an economic crisis.

“Furthermore, I would like to thank Fifth Third Bank, Huntington National Bank and KeyBank for already working with their commercial clients during this unprecedented crisis and providing leadership to the lending community in our state,” Tiberi continued. “Lenders in Ohio – from large institutions like PNC Bank to small, one-branch community banks in rural parts of the state – have been forward thinking in offering this relief. Let’s hope that out-of-state lenders will heed Gov. DeWine’s directive during this unprecedented crisis. This is yet another example of Governor DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Husted acting decisively by dealing with these critical issues ahead of governors in other states.”

In an order signed by Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, the state requires all hospitals that don’t already do their own COVID-19 testing, “which is a majority of the hospitals,” to send their tests to another hospital that does testing for a quicker turnaround, DeWine said.

Ohio State University, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and the MetroHealth system in Cleveland have unused capacity for tests and can turn them around quickly, DeWine said, while private labs – which have been overburdened by testing demand – can take days.

“Some of the labs have a very significant unused capacity each day that’s not really being fully utilized,” DeWine said. “And these labs hav ebeen able to turnaround results much quicker than private labs.”

The Department of Health is also ramping up its testing capacity, moving to three shifts to get tests turned around quicker, Acton added.

“This is an emergency situation,” Acton said. “We will run those tests and we will get that information to our local health departments a lot more quickly than waiting on some of the beleaguered private testing.”

The second part of the order involves rapid testing, which the state “will start using these just as soon as they are sent to us in Ohio,” DeWine said. The governor didn’t give an exact time on when they will be available, but said his administration has already been in touch with some of the companies bringing the rapid tests to market and he anticipates them being used within the next week.

Depending on how many rapid tests the state receives, Ohio will administer them through free-standing emergency departments, urgent care centers, free-standing ambulatory centers and hospital multi-use facilities that house a lab service, he noted.

The FEMA disaster declaration that was approved by President Donald Trump Tuesday will help shift some of the financial burden in dealing with COVID-19 from the state to the federal government, DeWine said. FEMA grants can cover up to 75% of certain COVID-19-related costs, including the operations of emergency operating centers, state agency purchases in response to the pandemic, disinfection of eligible public buildings, purchase of PPE, establishing temporary medical centers and enhancing hospital capacity.

The declaration also allows for direct federal assistance to local governments, including the National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers, DeWine said.

During Monday’s update, Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., adjutant general of Ohio, said residents would be seeing more service members in the community in the coming days. In addition to continuing to assist hospital emergency rooms and food pantries, National Guard members will conduct site assessments for hospital expansion and act as liaison with regional leaders to report the community’s exact requirements back to the Emergency Operating Center in Columbus.

Hospitals are working closely with the National Guard to determine what is needed to expand their capacity, including number of beds, bathrooms and sinks, DeWine said.

The National Guard has already been in touch with large venues in the state, including the Greater Columbus Convention Center and Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati to assess possible buildups, DeWine said. They’re also going to be looking at college dorms, other convention centers, closed hospitals and unoccupied medical offices.

“They’re assessing all those things to give us increased capacity,” DeWine said. “Over the coming days, the National Guard will help communities to expand hospital capacity.”

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.