CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that furlough notices are sent to the nurses’ union, not individual nurses.
The University of Vermont Medical Center has furloughed about 450 employees as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but so far has not cut any jobs permanently.
Dr. Stephen Leffler, president and chief operating officer, said Friday the hospital has been furloughing staff since early March. He said that while some employees have returned to work, the hospital recently notified the nurses’ union that some furloughs will be extended and additional furloughs will be needed, including in the intensive care unit where COVID-19 patients are treated.
For the first time in 10 weeks, Leffler said, the medical center has no COVID-19 patients, and the number of patients suffering from the disease has been in the single digits for three weeks.
“Vermont did a great job in the first wave (of COVID-19), working in a coordinated fashion,” Leffler said. “Vermonters took to heart what was necessary.”
Furloughs are limited to 10 weeks, according to Leffler, with staff maintaining their health benefits and other benefits. Some people are taking reduced hours while others are using paid time off, he said. Some of the furloughs are full-time, while others are partial.
“They’re still connected to the organization,” Leffler said. “We’re hopeful to bring them back as our volumes return.”
About three-quarters full
The medical center was at 72% of its capacity on Friday. Before the COVID-19 crisis, it was usually more than 90% full, according to Leffler.
“Furloughing our staff is really a way to adjust our staffing to meet the volumes of people we’re serving,” Leffler said.
The University of Vermont Health Network, which includes the Medical Center and five other hospitals in Vermont and upstate New York, announced May 1 it was facing “staggering revenue losses” of about $152 million for the year because of COVID-19, triggering salary cuts and a hiring freeze.
The health network canceled elective surgeries and procedures on March 17, which contributed to its financial losses. Three days later, on March 20, Gov. Phil Scott made it official for the entire state, suspending all elective surgeries and procedures.
In a news conference held by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger on May 1, Leffler said the hospital was losing about $1.1 million every day as a result of suspending elective surgeries and procedures.
“That’s a huge part of our business, how we keep everything going,” he said. “We also spent significant dollars preparing for a surge (in COVID-19 patients).”
Leffler estimated that by the end of March the medical center had lost more than $30 million, and that it projected a loss of more than $85 million by the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.
‘COVID-19 is part of what we do’
On May 4, Gov. Scott said some elective surgeries and procedures could resume, including outpatient clinic visits and diagnostic testing. Scott said hospitals could also resume outpatient surgeries and procedures that have a minimal impact on inpatient hospital bed capacity and personal protective equipment levels.
“Volume is coming back a little quicker than we expected,” Leffler said. “It’s a good sign that people will get back to work soon.”
Leffler said more than 200 employees have been “redeployed,” taking other roles throughout the organization. One example is a sleep technologist who is working as a COVID-19 symptom screener at the hospital entrance.
Employees who are redeployed continue to receive their normal salaries, even if the jobs they are performing pay less, Leffler said.
Hospital spokeswoman Annie Mackin said in an email some of those redeployed employees are reflected in the furlough numbers and some are not. She said as of Friday, 70 employees had returned to their units from redeployment, and 50 have returned from furlough.
“We’re building a future where COVID-19 is part of what we do,” Leffler said. “That’s part of the reason we’re furloughing people and not taking more permanent action. We expect to bring people back to work in a new normal. We expect to be busy caring for patients in a safe manner, while still dealing with COVID-19.”
Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a digital subscription.
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