The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

June 10, 2011

ORHC eliminating 43 jobs

‘Right-sizing’ staff to volume of patients cited

OTTUMWA — A round of layoffs at Ottumwa Regional Health Center shouldn’t hurt patients, officials said Thursday, but it will be painful for those losing their jobs.

“We’re eliminating 43 positions. They were notified this  morning,” said Jeff Atwood, vice president of communications at RegionalCare in Brentwood, Tenn., which owns the hospital.

Atwood said RegionalCare officials don’t want to use business challenges they face as an excuse for cutting jobs. However, he listed factors like a slow economy, a high rate of unpaid medical bills and low reimbursement from programs like Medicaid as reasons for the cuts.

But the main issue appears to be the number of customers.

“We’re just in a position of looking at what the volume of patients will be for upcoming months,” Atwood said. “We’re making sure that the size of the staff at the hospital is appropriate for the volume of patients. Such [decisions] have been referred to as ‘right sizing’ the staff.”

The interim CEO at the hospital, Sonny Boggus, said as of May there were 608 “full-time equivalents” at the hospital, which is how they do most of their employee counts. For example, if a receptionist desk is attended 40 hours per week, that’s one full-time equivalent, even if two part-timers “share” the position by working 20 hours each. The 43 positions cut will impact around 50 people.

“We’ve been evaluating for several  months, and the hospital has typically been in an overstaffed mode, even before the purchase,” said Boggus. “We hoped to address that overstaffing through attrition and retirements, but it just wasn’t happening.”

Atwood said they’re cutting positions “across the board.” But, said Boggus, the cuts fall mostly on support and ancillary positions, not RNs.

Boggus said that includes one pharmacist who left but was not replaced, a couple of emergency room techs as well as some food service workers, physical therapy assistants and case management people who determine if a visit should be inpatient or outpatient.

Part of the plan was to avoid cutting too deeply into any one department, he said, and to avoid impacting patient care.

Other departments seeing decreases include medical records, the purchasing department and the central supply department at same-day surgery.

The hospital had discussed transitioning its behavioral health department to River Hills Community Health Center,  though River Hills won’t hire the hospital’s full staff. The hospital is counting those employees as six full-time equivalents, actually eight people, out of the 43 layoffs.

“Our goal was to make this as unobtrusive to patients as possible,” Atwood said.

But, he acknowledged, this is still difficult on employees.

“We recognize it for what it is; it’s peoples’ lives. We want to make it as pain — free as possible, this transition. There’s severances, of course, 12 weeks pay for every employee, and health benefits continue for 12 weeks.”

Plus, this painful decision now, said Boggus, should increase job stability down the road as managers work hard to keep staffing at the right level.

“Hopefully after this, we won’t have to do this again. I never say never, but this is done in an attempt to reduce [job place] uncertainty.”

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