San Antonio Hospitals Cut Hours, Furlough Workers

San Antonio hospitals cut hours, furlough workers — even in face of coronavirus pandemic

Laura Garcia April 3, 2020

San Antonio hospitals are busy preparing for a potential onslaught of COVID-19 patients — while at the same time reducing workers’ hours and, in some cases, cutting their wages and temporarily laying off staff.

With elective surgeries scrubbed, and revenue declining as a result, the city’s largest hospital system is trimming the pay of employees who worked on nonessential procedures by 30 percent over the next seven weeks.

Allen Harrison, president and CEO of Methodist Healthcare System, said in a letter to the company’s 12,000 employees — most of whom aren’t effected by the cut — that he, too, would take a 30-percent pay reduction until the coronavirus pandemic passes.

“As I share these alternative plans to avoid furloughs and layoffs, I cannot ask you to accept sacrifices that I am not willing to make myself,” he wrote.

Department heads will also take pay cuts.

Methodist operates nine hospitals in the San Antonio area under a 50-50 ownership agreement between Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare and the nonprofit Methodist Healthcare Ministries.

The sharp drop in nonessential surgeries and fewer patients, stemming from government mandated stay-at-home orders, have led some hospitals around the country to cut employees’ hours and, in some cases, furlough staff — even in the face of potential surges of COVID-19 patients.

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At Baptist Health System, another major health care another in San Antonio, a surgical nurse said half of her coworkers’ shifts have been reduced and many others are at home using their accrued hours of paid time off.

“Right now, we are just left hanging and very unsure of our future,” she said in an email, asking not to be identified because she feared retaliation for speaking out.

Baptist’s parent company, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., told investors on Thursday that more than 500 employees would be furloughed because of “softening patient volumes.” It was unclear whether any of the furloughs will take place at Baptist’s eight area hospitals.

Tenet executives said most of the affected employees work in corporate and non-patient care positions, and will keep their health care benefits during the furlough. The company owns 65 hospitals across the United States, including its San Antonio facilities.

Earlier this week, Tenet also alerted employees that it will temporarily stop making matching contributions to their 401(k) retirement plans.

In a statement, Baptist Health System officials said, “Every effort is being made to help bring us all through this crisis, and we have made the decision to direct additional resources to meet the increased demand for health care services, address evolving patient needs in our hospitals and protect front-line staff.”

Executives at Southwest General Hospital, a 325-bed facility on the city’s South Side, told employees last week that they would initiate a “targeted, temporary furlough program for certain employees.”

The hospital is owned by Dallas-based Steward Health Care System, the largest U.S. physician-led, for-profit company, with 35 U.S. locations.

A company spokeswoman said most of the affected employees worked in non-clinical departments of Southwest, and that they would continue to receive benefits.

She declined to say how many San Antonio employees have been sidelined, but noted officials are optimistic about expected federal government assistance to help them through the crisis.

“While painful for us, many hospital systems around the country are taking the same steps,” she said. “We believe these necessary measures will help us navigate this crisis while keeping our focus on the future — and our ongoing commitment to caring for patients and the communities we serve.”

University Health System says San Antonio doctor has contracted…

Officials at University Health System, funded by Bexar County taxpayers, said they haven’t furloughed employees.

UHS, which includes the 700-bed public hospital in the South Texas Medical Center, is redeploying many of the staffers who’d been focused on elective surgeries and other services impacted by the coronavirus-related slowdown. Some of them have been sent to Freeman Coliseum to take samples at the site’s drive-through testing operation for the coronavirus.

UHS spokeswoman Leni Kirkman said 58 staff members so far have been redeployed.

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Also, affected workers who aren’t currently working on UHS’s pandemic response have been encouraged to use their paid time off to spend time at home.

“They know that they may get called back in should we begin to see a surge of symptomatic patients,” Kirkman said.

At Christus Santa Rosa Health System, another major San Antonio hospital operator, spokesman Katy Kiser also said no furloughs are in the works.

Irving-based parent company Christus Health is a Catholic, nonprofit health system with more than 600 facilities, including Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and hospitals at Westover Hills, Alamo Heights and the Medical Center.

Kiser said Christus expects to soon redeploy workers caught in the slowdown to other parts of the hospitals where they work.

Laura Garcia covers the healthcare industry in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Laura, become a | Twitter: @Reporter_Laura