OLEAN, N.Y. — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe, unprecedented disruption in patient volumes, resulting in heavy and unsustainable financial losses for hospitals. Upper Allegheny Health System (UAHS) and its member organizations, Olean General Hospital (OGH), Bradford Regional Medical Center (BRMC), Health System Physician PC (HSP), and Bradford Regional Medical Services (BRMS), are no exception.
Combined, UAHS has seen a 50 to 80 percent decline in patient activity in recent weeks in comparison to typical volumes. OGH and BRMC have taken services off line and cancelled elective surgery while at the same time preparing for COVID-19, including building additional capacity and purchasing additional personal protective equipment. In addition, the hospitals have delayed capital expenditures such as construction of the geropsychiatric unit at OGH. Fundraising events sponsored by the hospital foundations to support the hospitals have been cancelled or postponed.
“Unfortunately, fighting this virus comes at a very high price. The losses have been sobering,” said Jeff Zewe, RN, president and CEO, UAHS, BRMC, OGH. “Combined, OGH and BRMC lost $2.7 million in March, with projected losses in April estimated at $6.8 million. Currently, UAHS is projecting a $25 million loss for 2020 related to COVID-19.
“UAHS will continue to aggressively pursue grant and other funding sources to subsidize losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the overall financial needs of hospitals across the nation and the massive losses experienced by business and industry, it is unlikely we will get the relief at the level we need,” he said.
“As a result, we have made the difficult decision to initiate a voluntary furlough program at UAHS facilities and organizations, beginning Sunday, April 26,” Zewe said.
He explained they are seeking to find staff members in specific departments to volunteer for furlough. Department managers started reaching out to specific employees on Wednesday looking for volunteers.
“None of these reductions will impact our ability to provide patient care,” Zewe said. “This decision impacts management and staff, clinical and non-clinical positions. In addition, senior executives, directors and managers are all taking pay reductions.”
Zewe said they will keep evaluating the situation to look for opportunities to bring people back as soon as possible.
“Gov. Cuomo’s recent announcement that New York hospitals in low COVID-19 impact areas can re-open elective outpatient treatments is good news. However, the decision from Pennsylvania’s Gov. Wolf related to elective outpatient treatments has not been made yet,” he added. “We do expect to hear news soon related to elective outpatient treatments in Pennsylvania. Hopefully, when we re-open elective surgeries at our facilities and are able to open other services, it will enable us to bring some employees back from furlough.
“We have done everything asked of us by the government and everything within our power to protect our patients and staff while doing what is necessary to serve our patients during this pandemic,” he said. “As they should, people are staying home, helping to slow the spread of the virus, but at the same time, normal hospital business has suffered greatly. That said, we also have to face reality like every other hospital. It appears that the decline in patient volumes will continue for some time. With fewer patients to serve and fewer services, we simply do not have work available to continue to employ all of our staff in the short term and have no other choice than to furlough employees. We have recently seen furlough announcements by other nearby hospital systems and fully expect to see more in the days ahead.”
A furlough is a temporary unpaid leave. Furloughed employees are not being terminated from their employment and remain part of the OGH/BRMC family.
“We expect to bring everyone back after the current emergency passes, services re-open and operations return to normal,” Zewe said.
For furloughed employees, health insurance, dental and life insurance coverage and participation in retirement plans will continue for a period of 90 days from the effective date of the furlough.
Employees may file for unemployment benefits during the furlough. New York and Pennsylvania have waived the usual one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits, so employees may submit their claim right away.
“We are imploring state and federal governments to help us. We desperately need funding and relief to offset these unprecedented losses,” Zewe said. “We have staff on the front line protecting the public. Our hospitals need to be protected.”