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‘Pitchforks, torches’: EGH cuts cause unease among some workers

Elkhart General Hospital's recent annoumcent of layoffs and benefit reductions to couner a worse-than-expected performance in 2011 is causing jitters among employees, a pair of workers say.
Posted on March 19, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — They want to make it clear — patient care at Elkhart General Hospital won’t suffer.

The recent announcement of job and benefit cuts at the facility, though, is rubbing a lot of employees the wrong way, a pair of EGH workers say. Hospital officials announced a series of layoffs on March 9 to counter a loss at the facility in 2011 and an employee memo a day earlier outlined a series of benefit cuts.

The two workers — who asked that their names not be used due to concern about potential repercussions for speaking out — say morale at EGH had already taken a hit due to mandatory 4 percent wage cuts in 2009 that stemmed from the down economy. It dipped lower after the recent announcements, followed by a series of meetings between management and employees last week, they say.

“I don’t feel like a family right now because I don’t think a lot of this stuff is fair,” said one of the workers. The meeting the worker attended, presided over by EGH President Greg Losasso, was filled with questions and “there were pitchforks, torches, rage.”

Layoffs are bad enough. But the vacation and benefit cuts also hit many hard, said the workers, particularly those who work weekends and second and third shifts.

Many workers had already voluntarily scaled back their hours, mindful of the tough economy and the impact it’s had on EGH. “Our reward for that was to lose vacation time,” said one of the workers.

Despite it all, outright rebellion isn’t necessarily brewing.

“It’s more of a complacency because they feel like there’s nothing they can do,” said one of the workers.

Moreover, both, in talking to The Elkhart Truth, emphasize that any ill feelings fall by the wayside when it comes to dealings with patients, that the discontent won’t impact patient care.

“The minute a patient shows up, you put on the smile you’re supposed to have,” said one. “The minute a patient walks up it’s, ‘Hi, how are you?’”

2011: A TOUGH YEAR

EGH attributed the staffing and benefit cuts to a down year last year and a poor financial performance in January and February this year, the result, in part, of the jittery economy.

The workers said managers reported a reduction in revenue coming from traditional insurers, about the most stable source of hospital income. The load of patients relying on Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly that typically reimburses hospitals for only a portion of true costs, went up, straining EGH’s bottom line.

All told, 22 EGH workers have received or will get a pink slip, though three have found new posts elsewhere in the hospital, said Diane Stover, chief marketing officer for the yet-to-be-named parent company that now jointly operates EGH and Memorial Hospital of South Bend. Around 18 more posts will be eliminated through retirements or attrition.

“People don’t like it, we don’t like having to do it,” said Stover, adding that an auditor has yet to pinpoint EGH’s precise loss for 2011. EGH employs around 2,000, including 1,760 full-time equivalent workers, making it the third-largest employer in Elkhart County, according to EGH officials and Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce figures.

Management told EGH employees that the changes make benefits at the hospital in line with other area facilities, the two EGH workers said, while Stover notes that EGH is hardly alone. Memorial went through a similar round of cutbacks in 2009, she said, and health care facilities all over the country are doing the same thing.

On the bright side, displaced EGH workers will get preferential consideration for open positions at Memorial, Stover said.

Aside from job cuts, full-time status will be defined as having at least 70 hours per pay period instead of 80, merit pay raises will be delayed from February to July and vacation benefits will be cut by eight hours per year for all workers. (Editor's note - The initial version of this story said "70 hours per week," not 70 per pay period. This version is correct.)

The EGH workers who spoke to the Truth said “E” and “H” package employees — who work 36 hours per week on weekends and second and third shifts — are particularly drubbed by the announced changes.

They will no longer accrue the same benefits as those with standard 40-hour weeks. Instead the packages will go down — significantly in some cases — reflecting the hours worked, but also reducing the payback for taking less desirable shifts.

Because of other changes related to how overtime is calculated, nurses, they add, stand to take a financial hit, though the nurse-to-patient ratio isn’t impacted.

EGH is also looking to increase its offerings to boost the hospital’s revenue stream. Hospital leaders also hope affiliation with Memorial allows for change bringing savings, further helping the bottom line.

AFFILIATION TO BLAME?

Hospital officials say the recent move by EGH and Memorial to affiliate under a unified parent company doesn’t figure in the layoffs here. In fact, EGH President Greg Losasso said in a memo to workers that hospital officials hope the move “will allow us to gain significant economies of scale and use our limited resources more effectively.”

The two EGH workers aren’t so sure, noting that EGH officials looked at Memorial workers’ benefits in tweaking EGH benefits. Either way, they worry things will get worse for workers before they get better.

“We don’t think this is the end of it,” said one.


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