Originally created 06/30/00

$1.7 million lost in May Hospital job cuts ongoing

Financially troubled St. Joseph Hospital is undergoing another round of restructuring that will affect about 30 employees, with about six to eight layoffs, officials said.

Some of those affected will go through a "match day" today to hook up with new positions in the hospital. And hospital officials say they are beginning to see "light at the end of the tunnel" and are hoping to have operations in the black near the end of the year.

The move comes on top of a management layoff of about a half dozen positions a few weeks ago and brings the total to about 90 positions eliminated in the past several months, said interim President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Andrew Lasser, part of the Lane Group that took over temporary management of the hospital in May. The hospital now will have about 780 full-time positions, said Adam Russo, senior consultant for Lane.

Many of those affected will have hours reduced or will be moved to new shifts and new positions. The hospital has some open positions that will be offered to those affected, with preference for seniority and related experience, Dr. Lasser said. The changes likely will take effect around July 15, Dr. Lasser said.

In its home health operations, three nurse managers will be offered nursing positions within the hospital while officials study the service, which covers 19 counties and has offices in Thomson, Aiken and Sylvania. Those offices will remain open, but officials are looking to reduce overhead and are "examining the counties in which we're providing service" and whether that extensive network will continue, Dr. Lasser said.

Medicare cuts have hit home health operations particularly hard, and payments will be changed again in October, although no one knows yet how much, Dr. Lasser said.

"That will have a significant impact on the decision about whether we and other people stay in that business or not," Dr. Lasser said.

The hospital lost $1.7 million in May and will lose about $700,000 this month, but officials say they are beginning to see things turn around.

Officials have been courting physician practices to move their offices and patients to St. Joseph. The administration also is working to restructure and improve relationships with managed care companies. Managed care makes up 38.8 percent of the commercial insurance in Augusta, and companies are trying to make up years of losses even while hospitals and doctors are pressing to increase reimbursements, said Dr. John Harkey, publisher of Georgia Managed Care.

The changes at St. Joseph will bring staffing to appropriate levels for an average of 75 to 85 inpatients a day, although St. Joseph is averaging about 63 now and has room to grow.

"We think we've passed the bottom of the hole and are climbing our way back out now and can actually see the sky and that there is light at the end of that tunnel," Dr. Lasser said.

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


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