More than a third of New Jersey's hospitals were operating in the red through the third quarter of 2020, according to the latest figures from the New Jersey Hospital Association.

As hospitals continue to deal with increased expenses related to the pandemic, many New Jersey residents appear to be delaying non-COVID care due to fears they may contract the virus, the association says.

"Our hospitals are taking extraordinary COVID-19 safety precautions to be the centers of safety and care that our communities rely on," NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett said in a written statement. "We must look out for our family, our friends, our neighbors and ourselves to ensure we are still getting regular care and are on alert for serious symptoms."

Looking at year-to-date data through September, the association recorded a 27% decline in emergency department visits compared to the same time frame in 2019. The hospitals also experienced a 20% decline in outpatient volume and a 10% decline in inpatient admissions, according to the report. At the same time, expenses increased 10%.

Due to that combo, the percent of hospitals posting operating losses nearly doubled, to 41%. There was an average statewide operating margin of 1.6%.

According to the report, relief aid to hospitals "has not erased the financial strain" on the facilities.

"We don't want to create any immediate concern about the availability of our hospitals in the here and now ... They're open, they have everything in place to provide safe, effective care," NJHA spokeswoman Kerry McKean Kelly. "But you can not sustain those kinds of margins for the long haul in the years ahead, and still have a healthcare system that's prepared for all situations and all emergencies."

Kelly said the biggest concern right now is residents delaying care "and potentially putting their health at risk."

"The threat of delaying your care is probably far greater than any threat of COVID," she said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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