Originally created 05/02/00

Hospital to lay off workers



St. Joseph Hospital announced a restructuring Monday that will cut 30 jobs and shift 65 additional employees into new positions to save about $4 million annually.

The move marks the second layoff at the hospital in less than six months.

The first layoff, which cut half as many jobs, occurred in November.

"I don't think at that time there was anticipation of a total restructuring, but efforts have been under way for a long time at St. Joseph and other hospitals to combat the obstacles that are out there," said Sherry Lorenz, a hospital spokeswoman.

The cuts were "across the board" and not directed at any single department, Ms. Lorenz said, noting that the hospital's nurse-to-patient ratio will be maintained.

The restructuring plan also includes establishing a short-term stay unit that likely will be supported by relocating nurses on existing wards. Beds for the inpatient hospice unit will be consolidated to different floors.

"We're restructuring some of the services we offer, but we're not eliminating any," Ms. Lorenz said. "We really got in and analyzed the overall needs of the hospital and of the community over the past several months ... to come up with ideas for cost savings. This has been well thought through. The result will be a tremendous savings, and it will result in some efficiencies."

Those who have been laid off have the option to work until Friday.

Severance packages based on tenure will be given to displaced employees, Ms. Lorenz said.

No additional layoffs are anticipated, Ms. Lorenz said.

The health care industry has seen major changes in recent years, many of which have been attributed to the federal Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which revises the formula for reimbursing patient-treatment costs.

A Georgia Hospital Association report released last year estimated that the budget bill will reduce Medicare payments to Georgia hospitals by nearly $1.9 billion from 1998 to 2002.

"No matter where you try to shift your costs, you can't, because at every turn the cost of business is going up," said Patrick Cacchione, vice president for advocacy and communications for Carondelet Health System, which sponsors 15 acute care hospitals nationwide, including St. Joseph's. "It leaves you with very few options without looking at staff reduction. Nationally, that's the environment."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.