During the next few weeks, Via Christi Health, the largest provider of health care services in Kansas, will be laying off approximately 350 to 400 of its 10,000 employees across the state.
Michael Hayslip, public relations director for Via Christi in Pittsburg, said the Pittsburg area has been tasked with carving out $3.5 million to help balance out a system facing an $18 million budget shortfall as it nears the end of its fiscal year.
He said the number of potential jobs to be cut has not yet been finalized for the Pittsburg area, however an early estimate reported by The Wichita Eagle indicates about 50 positions are slated to be cut in Pittsburg and about 25 additional jobs are expected to be eliminated in Manhattan, with the remainder in the Wichita area.
Hayslip said the health care system, which includes the hospital, physician offices and care facilities, first will look at how to minimize formal layoffs.
“We don’t have a set number of positions yet, because we’re trying to minimize the involuntary reductions,” he said.
Initially, 25 open positions have been frozen.
“We will scrutinize vacated positions very closely based on their need for patient care and not all will be filled, helping lessen the impact of the workforce reduction,” Hayslip said.
“You also have impending retirements, and we also have voluntary reduction,” he said.
However, layoffs still are in the future, and will take place in the coming weeks, between now and June 7.
Hayslip said employees will be notified of job cuts by their direct supervisors, and staff members whose positions are eliminated will receive severance and other support.
He also said no level or department will be exempt from consideration.
“Almost all departments in the hospital will probably be affected, but we will not - we will not - let it take away from bedside care,” Hayslip said.
Hayslip said the cuts come at a pivotal time as the health care system looks at trends and toward its future.
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On one hand, construction continues on a new, high-tech surgery center, which Hayslip had said in a prior interview was expected to draw as many as 20 surgeons, physicians and specialists, and related staff, to the hospital over the course of the next few years.
However, the budget shortfall brought about reassessment of the more immediate need.
“With the fiscal year coming to a close at the end of June and looking at where the health system stood financially compared to where volumes were budgeted, there was a need to address the long-term mission of Via Christi, and unfortunately tough decisions had to be made to sustain the mission,” Hayslip said.
“We need a cost reduction of $3.5 million,” he continued. “That is based on what we look at in the health system in a fiscal year, and realizing that the decrease of volume we’ve been experiencing the past three months is not reversing.”
The Via Christi Health system recently became part of Ascension Health, the largest Catholic health system in the United States which does have a history, along with most other health systems, of layoffs in recent years.
However, Hayslip said the merger and the cuts are unrelated.
“Almost all of Ascension Health is seeing the same volume decline as other systems are anywhere in the country.”
“Hospitals coast to coast are experiencing a decline in volume,” Hayslip said. “Nobody is able to pinpoint exactly why the volume is decreasing.”
However, he speculated that it is a mix of concerns about the future of health care reform, the general economy, high deductibles for those who are insured and the fact that Medicaid has not expanded in the State of Kansas.
Additionally, Hayslip said Via Christi provides care regardless of the patient’s ability to pay as part of the organization’s mission to take care of the most vulnerable, which was valued at $90 million in community benefit last year.
However, he said the charitable care is factored into the budget and when paid patient volume decreases that puts pressure on the entire system, and he said decisions had to be made to protect the system for years to come.
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“What the health care sector is going to have to do is find a new normal for hospital volume,” Hayslip said, adding that new trends demand reevaluation of historical volume.
“Our goal with this decision is for the long-term stability of the ministry and the health system,” he said. “We feel that by acting now this protects our mission for decades to come.”
In Thursday’s The Morning Sun we will take a look at community response and the prospective local and regional job markets for health care employees.