In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Bexar County’s hospital system has attempted to account for any new variables when planning its finances for the 2021 fiscal year.

On Tuesday, Bexar County commissioners unanimously approved the University Health System’s 2021 budget, just over $2.2 billion. That’s about $100 million more than the system’s 2020 budget – a fairly typical increase, according to Chief Financial Officer Reed Hurley.

“Over the last several years, we’ve grown about that much each year,” Hurley said.

During the coronavirus pandemic, UHS learned to adjust its operations and is preparing for the pandemic’s continuing impact in 2021, President and CEO George Hernández Jr. told county commissioners at their meeting Tuesday.

UHS is prepared for a reduction of $53.8 million compared to its 2020 budget, as several federal supplemental funding programs will likely expire, Hurley said. The hospital system received more than $17 million as part of the federal coronavirus relief fund earlier this year, but officials are assuming that won’t happen again, Hurley said.

The hospital system’s budget was also significantly impacted by a decline in procedures and doctor visits unrelated to COVID-19.

“In 2020, we lost patient revenue because of volume disappearing,” Hurley said. “We’re assuming the volume will return in 2021, and the federal [coronavirus relief funds] and other assistance will go away. It all depends on how the feds do another stimulus package.”

The hospital system does expect a slight increase in its property tax revenue next year, due to taxing new properties and increased property valuations around the county. The tax rate for the hospital district was set in September at 27.6237 cents per $100 valuation. Only about 20 percent of UHS’s operating revenue in 2020 came from property taxes, however. Much of the revenue for the hospital system comes from payments for patient care from insurance companies. UHS expects $818 million of its revenue in 2021 to come from patient revenue. The hospital system also projected it would collect $731 million in patient revenue in 2020.

Hernández said though fewer non-coronavirus patients made use of the hospital system this year, employees were redeployed to other areas to ensure they still had a role.

“We have not had any layoffs during COVID,” he said. “We wanted to protect our team but also show we were there for them during a tough time.

“We also shifted our visits to telehealth visits, as in-person visits were not possible in April. Through October, we’ve had over 123,000 telehealth and telephonic visits. That has helped tremendously with our fight on COVID.”

Hernández assured commissioners that not only would he be working during the 2021 legislative session to expand the abilities of telehealth, but also to promote broadband access in neighborhoods that lack home internet connections.

“You need to have broadband with telehealth, and there are some neighborhoods who [that] do not have broadband,” he said.

The University Hospital System consists of one main hospital and 27 other locations, including school-based clinics and ambulatory clinics, according to Leni Kirkman, vice president of strategic communication. In 2021, UHS hopes to grow its patient levels back to 2019 levels, expand pharmacy services, and continue the work on the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which is scheduled to be completed by 2023.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.