Why are hospitals laying off workers during pandemic?

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Why are hospitals struggling in the midst of a pandemic? It’s a question News 8 has gotten repeatedly each day.

“Why are we still under a lockdown when the hospitals are not overflowing? In fact, not only are they not overflowing, they are empty and laying off employees?” one of those questions from Grand Rapids resident Susan Miller read.

The reason is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order eliminating elective procedures at hospitals in order to make room for potential COVID-19 patients and to reduce contact between people.

“Those elective surgeries are really the bread and butter of most hospitals, most health systems, most primary care practitioners in our state,” said Marianne Udow-Phillips, executive director The Center for Health Research Transformation, which helps translate factual scientific information and studies for policy makers and the public.

“Even though we’ve had a spike, especially in some communities, in coronavirus cases, they’re not nearly enough to replace all those elective procedures that were occurring before this,” Udow-Phillips continued.

All outpatient procedures and most in-office visits are being replaced by televisits, and that may be something that sticks beyond the height of the pandemic. People are nervous about going to the hospital, even for things like child birth. Emergency room intake is way down because people are avoiding hospitals and also because fewer are driving, so there are fewer crashes.

The biggest news on hospital employment in Michigan comes out of the Detroit area, where Beaumont Health laid off 2,485 workers and permanently eliminated 450 jobs; and Henry Ford Health System temporarily laid off 2,800.

In Grand Rapids, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital put about 400 employees, approximately 20% of its workforce, on temporary furlough as it struggles with COVID-19-related budget shortfalls. Officials say they will keep providing for those workers by continuing their insurance coverage and supplementing any government assistance so they make 75% of their regular pay.

Trinity Health Systems, which owns Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids and the Hackley Campus in Muskegon, furloughed 10% of its staff.

Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo has a 50% revenue loss and is planning hundreds of temporary layoffs.

Metro Health-University of Michigan Health in Wyoming has made no public announcement of cuts, but it is unlikely any hospital will remain unscathed.

Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids has not announced layoffs, but executives are taking pay cuts, including a 40% pay reduction for CEO Tina Freese Decker.

“Every hospital everywhere in the country is struggling right now,” Udow-Phillips said.

But one thing is clear: Hospitals are not struggling because the coronavirus is somehow failing to live up to the hype.

“We have no data to say the virus is not as serious as we thought it was. In fact, all of the data we have coming into us is saying the virus is very serious,” Udow-Phillips she said.

Udow-Phillips predicts that until there is a vaccine, it is likely that hospitals will continue to struggle.

She also expects that even after things return to some semblance of normal, many of the efficiencies developed during the pandemic will continue.

“I do think that there’s going to be a change in practice, I do think that many consumers are now realizing that they can get care through telehealth,” Udow-Phillips said.

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