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Baptist Health tells staff of job cuts

by Stephen Steed | March 31, 2020 at 7:12 a.m.
The Baptist Health campus on Kanis Road in Little Rock is shown in this 2016 file photo.

An undetermined number of people will lose their jobs at Baptist Health because of a financial crunch brought on by a focus on treating only the most serious illnesses and injuries amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The job losses are temporary, Troy Wells, Baptist Health's president and chief executive officer, said in a lengthy email to employees Monday.

While some employees already have had their hours reduced or their shifts eliminated, further cuts were needed because revenue has slowed, Wells wrote.

Neither Wells nor Baptist Health's communications department provided specific numbers on how many jobs would be affected or how much of a financial savings were being sought.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

"As the pandemic has spread throughout our communities, people are doing the right thing by staying home," Wells wrote in the email of about 800 words.

"As such there have been fewer people choosing to access the health care system," Wells continued. "We've observed fewer people presenting to our Emergency Departments and more patients choosing to delay care. This was happening even before we made the decision to limit non-urgent procedures and surgeries. We are taking action to respond to these financial challenges and prepare for what we may face in the future."

Salaries of executives and directors will be "reduced for the coming months," Wells wrote without providing details.

Baptist Health this week "will identify additional employees who will be furloughed on a temporary basis," Wells said, adding that those employees will retain their health care and dental coverage.

Employees also will receive assistance in filing for unemployment benefits, Wells wrote, noting that an aid package approved last week by Congress will boost those benefits, as well as the length of time they can be received.

In Arkansas, not including the boost that will be provided by federal money, the minimum weekly benefit is $81 and the maximum weekly benefit is $451, according to the state Department of Commerce. The current limit on receiving unemployment benefits in Arkansas is 16 weeks, although that also will be extended by the federal legislation.

Under the new federal $2.2 trillion economic relief plan, eligible workers will get an extra $600 per week on top of their state benefit.

Wells said Baptist Health's planned annual pay increase of 2.25% to all employees, which was set to be paid out starting in mid-April, will be postponed.

Wells noted that other hospitals across the nation will face similar decisions in the coming days.

The decision at Baptist Health mirrors those already being made at specialty clinics and private practices across the state.

"Some doctors have had to lay off staff, and others have had to close [temporarily]," David Wroten, executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week.

Wroten said he didn't yet have specific numbers for layoffs and closings brought on by the near-complete halt of patient flow into clinics.

Wells also said the hospital system has suspended all hiring of noncritical positions.

"We will continue to hire bedside caregivers and those who are critical to ongoing operations," he wrote. "We also hope that we can call back to service any furloughed employees that may be able to serve in different capacities."

The hospital also will suspend all employer retirement contributions, place a hold on all building projects, and cancel projects with contractors, he said.

"I realize the hardship that some of these actions may cause, and I am truly sorry," Wells wrote near the conclusion of his letter.

Business on 03/31/2020

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