As financial losses from COVID-19 mount, Saint Al's enacts temporary cuts and furloughs

2020-04-02 | The Idaho Statesman

April 02-- Apr. 2--Since the pandemic has arrived in Idaho, COVID-19 has delivered some harsh financial blows to local businesses -- even in the health care industry.

Officials at Saint Alphonsus Health System and its parent organization, Trinity Health, notified employees Wednesday that the system would be making temporary cuts during the coronavirus crisis, including furloughs for some employees "whose work has significantly declined as a result of COVID-19."

The Boise-based hospital system made aggressive changes to prepare for an influx of critically ill and emergency patients -- changes that exacted a financial toll.

"The changes we have experienced in the last month due to COVID-19 are staggering and of epic proportion," an internal memo to employees from Saint Alphonsus CEO Odette Bolano said. "There are so many unknowns that continue to weigh heavily on all of us. But every day, I see the dedication of every single one of our colleagues and physicians showing up to take care of patients and support each other."

The memo said revenues from hospital, clinic and other inpatient or outpatient care have declined "anywhere between 50-80%" as the health system changed its operations in anticipation of COVID-19.

Those changes -- such as postponing elective surgeries -- were "necessary and vital for the safety of our patients, colleagues and communities," but also "resulted in significant unexpected costs which will continue for the duration of the pandemic," the memo said.

Bolano said in the memo that Saint Alphonsus will cut pay for its top-level executives; reduce some employees' schedules to part time; change roles for some employees; and furlough some employees for two weeks to six months.

The health system also will suspend any "non-essential work" to focus on COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavrius, and will suspend capital spending on "growth projects or non-clinical areas," it said.

The memo -- obtained by the Statesman and confirmed with multiple employees -- did not mention any layoffs.

"We know that we are not alone in this challenge," the memo said. "Across the nation, many health systems are taking similar actions. However, I also know that this situation, while temporary for the duration of the pandemic, will present a hardship for colleagues impacted."

An additional memo to employees from Trinity Health said the health system's financial hardship, as it prepares for and responds to the pandemic, is not understood by "many government leaders" or the public.

"They think hospitals are full, and they don't realize that more than half of our revenue comes from outpatient and elective services," it said. The parent company expects to "lose millions of dollars throughout this pandemic."

Mark Snider, spokesman for Saint Alphonsus, said he couldn't elaborate or say how many employees would be affected at this time. He provided the following statement from CEO Odette Bolano:

Saint Alphonsus' priority is the care and safety of our colleagues and the people we serve, and our colleagues have never worked harder than they are working today. Health systems worldwide are under tremendous pressure to prepare for the upcoming COVID-19 surge. We are actively recruiting to increase our clinical staff, redeploying colleagues to address critical needs, decreasing senior leader compensation and planning for reduction of colleagues' hours and furloughs to address the challenges we face.

The communities we serve in Idaho and Oregon can be assured that we are here for their healthcare needs. Even at this difficult time, our priorities continue to be the safety of our communities and providing exceptional healthcare. All the services our patients receive at Saint Alphonsus hospitals or at one of our 73 specialty, urgent care and family medicine clinics are still available, and we continue to offer the full spectrum of urgent and emergent procedures and surgeries. We have also expanded our telemedicine service, MyeVisit, to allow patients to see a provider while staying at home. We are only temporarily postponing elective surgeries, procedures, diagnostic tests and other elective care until this crisis is over and are working with patients to reschedule.

At this time, our attention is focused on COVID-19 readiness, which has required we make difficult decisions to temporarily suspend elective services. In addition, we've restricted visitors and hospital building access, developed telehealth options for care, implemented three outpatient respiratory assessment sites and other measures to prepare for the continuing impact of COVID-19, and the anticipated surge we know is coming. We have turned all our attention and resources to the staffing, equipment and facilities required to treat this pandemic.

The recently announced labor and compensation changes are difficult, but necessary to ensure we steward Saint Alphonsus to be sustainable and viable well into the future. I also want to reassure our colleagues and community partners that my goal is to get everyone back to work as soon as possible. These are difficult decisions to make, and are expected to be temporary, but we are not immune from the realities facing healthcare providers all over the world. We stay steadfast to our mission and commitment to serving our communities and caring for our colleagues and our physicians.