FARMINGTON – San Juan Regional Medical Center began temporary furloughs of select employees, reducing salaries for senior staff and asking staff to take voluntary pay reductions this week in response to a decline in revenue resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the hospital.
The changes come as the region continues to fight the coronavirus and a few weeks after the state’s governor issued a public health order closing nonessential medical services.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, alongside the state Department of Health, ordered hospitals and health care facilities to stop providing nonessential health care services on March 24. The public health order says any procedure that can be delayed for at least three months without risk to the patient should be delayed. This does not include prenatal or postnatal care.
“No organization has been spared the impact of COVID-19. San Juan Regional Medical Center has limited our services to emergencies and urgent medical needs and deferred elective care at this time, which has severely negatively impacted our revenue and monthly cash collections,” Laura Werbner, spokeswoman for the hospital, said Monday in an email to The Durango Herald.
According to the hospital, senior leadership, including the CEO, have agreed to take a pay cut during this time.
“These are unprecedented times and it is going to take action on all of our part to get through this. The majority of our caregivers will continue working full-time while other workforce changes will be implemented to meet current needs,” said Jeff Bourgeois, CEO of the hospital, in a news release.
Werbner added it was not a layoff or a reduction in workforce, and those on furlough are still employed by the hospital and will continue to receive their benefits.
“We have taken action to reduce costs in non-staffing areas,” she said.
“Once the pandemic subsides and our patient care volumes and demand for services return, furloughed employees will be called back to work” Bourgeois said.
Interim Mercy Regional Medical Center CEO Mike Murphy said hospitals across the nation, that are not caught up in COVID-19 hot spots like New York, are struggling with lower volumes because elective surgeries have been delayed.
With elective procedures put off, sometimes for months, the volume of work conducted at Mercy “is down significantly” he said.
At some point, Murphy said some elective surgeries can no longer be delayed, and those procedures will be scheduled based on a doctor’s assessment.
“If a physician believes there is a significant risk, they are pushing forward with those procedures,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Mercy said no furloughs or layoffs had been made at the hospital as of Monday.
A letter sent by Cortez’s Southwest Health Alliance on April 2 said the hospital had decided to suspend elective surgeries and other elective-type services to limit the spread of the virus and free-up hospital resources.
“We are not planning any reduction in staffing at this time,” the letter said. “However, it is likely staff duties will change and staff will be utilized in areas not previously anticipated and flexibility will be key as we start to see an increase in COVID-19 related cases.”
While there isn’t a time line for when furloughed employees at San Juan Regional Medical Center will return to work, Bourgeois said the move allows the hospital “to dedicate our resources directly to the COVID-19 patient care needs as well as other emergent and urgent patient care needs.”
In addition to furloughing select staff, the hospital said providers and physicians had volunteered to take pay reductions.
“We are truly appreciative of this show of solidarity, and to these individuals for this sacrifice to ensure that our hospital can continue running and meet the needs of our community,” the hospital said in a news release Friday.
As of Monday, the New Mexico Department of Health reported 1,345 positive cases of the virus out of 31,970 tests completed. There were 31 deaths, according to the state department of health. One of the deaths reported Sunday, was a woman in her 90s from San Juan County, N.M. She was hospitalized at the time of her death.
San Juan County is reporting 173 positive cases and seven deaths, making it the fourth highest county for cases and the second highest for deaths in the state as of Monday. Three long-term care facilities in the area have also reported positive cases of COVID-19: Aztec Health Care, Beehive Homes and Lifecare Farmington.