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Hospital mass layoffs keep steady pace

The trend mirrors the economy as a whole, although health care traditionally recovers from downturns later than do other industries.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted May 13, 2010

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Hospitals are continuing to have as many mass layoffs as they did in 2009, though the number of employees laid off was lower in the first three months of 2010, according to numbers released April 23 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In March, the latest month tracked by the BLS, 12 mass layoffs occurred at hospitals, affecting 798 employees. A mass layoff is defined as one that affects 50 or more workers. In March 2009, there also were 12 mass layoffs, but 1,062 people filed for unemployment insurance after those incidents.

There were 36 hospital mass layoffs during the first three months of 2010, only one less than the 37 during the first three months of 2009, according to the BLS. In 2009, however, 3,003 employees were affected, while in 2010 that number was down to 2,516.

These trends mirror those of the economy as a whole, although health care is traditionally a lagging indicator affected by and recovering from downturns later than other industries, analysts said. Hospitals have been struggling because of increasing demand for charity care and reductions in elective procedures. Cuts in reimbursements from government-run health care programs have added to the strain, analysts said.

The BLS has not tracked April statistics yet, although the numbers are sure to include two major hospital layoffs.

On April 6, Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers in New York announced the closure of St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan's inpatient services, resulting in more than 1,000 layoffs. On April 23, Jackson Health System in Miami announced the cutting of 613 positions, with 511 people losing jobs.

Ambulatory care centers, including physician offices, have been touched by the recent downturn as well, although mass layoffs are far less common in this setting.

Data for March 2009 were not recorded because they did not meet agency standards, but 16 mass layoff events were noted in January and February of 2009, with 2,252 people losing jobs. Only 14 mass layoff events occurred during the first quarter of 2010, with 789 jobs eliminated.

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