Northern Hospital cuts staff due to health-care changes

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

October 5, 2013

Health-care changes on the national scene — including the impact of the new Affordable Care Act — have resulted in Northern Hospital of Surry County (NHSC) cutting 12 to 15 positions this week.

Hospital CEO Bill James said Friday the reductions are a sign of the times which has led to similar downsizing at many other hospitals.

“If you type ‘hospital layoffs’ in Google, your screen won’t be able to handle all the results,” James said in reference to a popular Internet search engine.

Not only have up to 15 employees lost their jobs at Northern Hospital of Surry County, others have had schedules reduced to 35 or 36 hours per week and additional workers have moved into other jobs to avoid being cut.

“Those are all tough changes to make,” James said.

“There’s probably been 30 or so individuals, at least, who have been impacted individually — some part-time, some full-time, some with hours reduced or positions terminated,” he said. “And we hate that.”

Those who lost their jobs this week were employed in various departments. “It’s really across the board,” said James, who added that personnel in critical-care areas were spared.

The hospital CEO blames the cuts on a double-whammy that includes the government paying less for Medicare and Medicaid clients, with the federal sequestration and the Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — also resulting in less revenues.

For NHSC’s present fiscal year, which began Tuesday — the same as the federal government — the hospital is expected to lose $1.3 million in payments. “Health-care spending nationally is down,” James said, with that trend expected to continue in 2014 and 2015.

As a percentage of the gross national product, health-care spending dropped in 2012 for the first time, according to the local hospital official.

Government-paid patients represent one-third of Northern Hospital’s clientele, James added.

“We’re in the same boat as others,” he said. “You can’t look at any hospital that is not impacted the same way we are.”

One example is Randolph Hospital in Asheboro, which last month announced the elimination of 66 positions by Oct. 1. James also provided information about recent job cuts or pay reductions at Halifax Regional, Columbus Regional, Mission Hospital in Asheville and others.

Coupled with lower revenues is the fact people are seeking less services from the hospital, due to facing higher co-payments or having to pay for care out of pocket, he said.

“But the biggest issue is the absolute payments that we receive for work we do have continued to drop,” James said. “That became just unsustainable. We can’t be paying out more money for our obligations, the largest of which is our staff, than we’re bringing in.”

He added that the pace of the downturn has been much faster than the hospital could hope to adjust to through normal attrition, thus necessitating this week’s job cuts.

Despite the reduction in personnel, James said NHSC is doing well overall, thanks in part to strong leadership by its board of trustees. “The hospital’s financial standing is very solid.”

Northern Hospital is one of Surry County’s largest employers.

It has between 625 and 650 full-time-equivalent employees. Overall, its work force numbers about 750, counting those it employs directly or contracts for the services of, some through third parties.

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