Hospital mass layoffs matching last year's record levels
■ Health systems say the economic downturn continues to take its toll.
The number of mass layoffs at hospitals in the first months of 2010 mirrored 2009, as the economic downturn persisted in straining health system finances.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released March 23, there were 11 mass layoffs at hospitals in February, leading 723 people to claim unemployment benefits. Thirteen incidents occurred in January, involving 995 people.
A mass layoff is defined as at least 50 people losing their jobs from a single institution at the same time.
The BLS recorded 12 mass layoffs in February 2009, affecting 866 people and 13 in January of that year, involving 1,075.
Those at institutions with recent layoffs say increasing demands for charity care combined with reductions in demand for elective services are making this type of cost-cutting necessary.
"Hospitals across the country are experiencing declines in volumes, as people are deferring elective medical procedures because of change in employment status and health insurance coverage," wrote Janice James, transition CEO of Jewish Hospital & St. Mary's HealthCare in Louisville, Ky., in a March 10 statement announcing the elimination of 500 positions. "Hospitals are also seeing increases in uncompensated care."
Layoffs for March include:
- Eastern Maine Medical Center laid off 48 employees.
- Spring Branch Medical Center in Houston laid off 720 and closed inpatient services.
- Seton Family of Hospitals in Austin, Texas, eliminated approximately 60 positions and reduced the hours of 30 others.
The number of mass layoffs at ambulatory health care centers, a category that includes physician offices, improved slightly, but these data are less telling, because mass layoffs are far less common in this setting.
Five happened in February, with at least 310 people losing their jobs, but four occurred in January, with 216 workers claiming benefits.