University Hospital lays off 30 workers

About 30 people are out of a job at University Hospital, which is shelving a unit it no longer needs as it searches for more efficiency, a hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday.

 

The eighth-floor South unit was a cardiac unit that was kept open after the hospital started moving most of those patients to its new Heart & Vascular Institute in January, spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester said.

In light of declining revenues, "we're looking at all services and seeing where we can work as efficiently as possible," Ms. Sylvester said.

The affected employees have known for a while that the change was coming, Ms. Sylvester said.

"(They) got a two-month notice," she said.

The hospital tried to find other positions within the organization but in the end about 30 were affected, she said.

There are no plans for across-the-board layoffs, Ms. Sylvester said.

The hospital has been hurt by a slight drop in volume that has resulted in a much larger drop in revenue in particular areas, she said. For instance, many patients who would have been admitted to the hospital as inpatients are instead going to 23-hour observation, which pays much less, she said.

It is also a sign of the times.

"The economy has hit us over the past year much harder than we thought it would," she said.

Hospitals and health care used to be considered recession-proof, but no more, said J. Larry Read, the CEO of University Health Care System.

"We're seeing a change in the volume of patients; the number of elective patients coming to the hospital have dropped off," he said. "And not just at University, but these are national trends that we're seeing out there."

And it is not just limited to health care, Mr. Read said.

"Our whole economy is changing right now," he said.

Looming ahead is the potential impact of health care reform, Mr. Read said. He had not seen a breakdown of the most recent deal the American Hospital Association worked out with the Obama administration on Medicare and Medicaid cuts, but a previous estimate showed those cuts would cost University $119 million over 10 years, Mr. Read said.

"I think health care is going to change, and we and every other hospital will have to face the future in a more lean posture," he said. "But we can do that."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.