Financial losses related to pandemic cited for action.
HYANNIS — In its largest layoff in 12 years, Cape Cod Healthcare officials announced Friday they are terminating the positions of 118 furloughed employees.
“No one wanted to be in this situation,” Cape Cod Healthcare President and CEO Michael K. Lauf said during a morning telephone conference.
He said demands on the health care system as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have forced layoffs across the system, from lab workers to vice presidents.
Jerry Fishbein, vice president of 1199SEIU, a union that represents health care workers, called the layoffs during a pandemic “difficult and disturbing.”
“Health care workers at CCHC have sacrificed throughout this crisis — risking exposure and in a number of cases actually being exposed, taking furloughs, reassignments, or working overtime to accommodate for reduced staffing,” Fishbein said in a statement.
He said in a later interview that 52 members of his union were affected by the job action at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis and 11 at Falmouth Hospital.
Cape Cod Healthcare had furloughed 595 employees — more than 10% of its workforce — as of May 10.
Organization officials said Friday they were able to return 477 people to their positions but had to terminate the rest of the positions.
The layoffs include eight vice presidents, a nurse who practices reiki and alternative types of medicine, a housekeeper at Falmouth Hospital, lab workers, medical records keepers and clerical workers, according to Lauf and Fishbein.
The job action affects both hospitals, Cape Cod Healthcare medical affiliates and the corporate offices, Lauf said.
He said he and about 19 other members of senior management will take a 10% pay cut through fiscal 2021. The most recent charitable tax returns show Lauf was paid nearly $3 million in fiscal 2018, but health care officials said his compensation that year included a performance payment that was not to be repeated in 2019.
Fishbein called on state and federal elected leaders to address the financial losses suffered by hospitals during the pandemic.
“Health care workers should not be punished at every step of this crisis,” he said.
Cape Cod Healthcare CFO Michael Connors said the system was losing $111 million through reduced revenue and other pandemic-related financial issues. Government aid has come to $45 million, leaving a $66 million shortfall, Connors said.
Inpatient visits fell 10%, surgeries 17% and emergency room visits 20% as a result of the pandemic, Lauf said.
The state ordered hospitals to cancel all but the most essential surgeries from March to July, cutting major sources of revenue.
“We were forced to stop 1,300 elective procedures that significantly reduced our outpatient flow and the work that we do,” Lauf said.
At the same time, Cape Cod Healthcare opened three coronavirus treatment step-down facilities off-site at the state’s urging, invested in personal protective equipment for employees and opened a mobile testing center at Cape Cod Community College.
The testing centers are now located at the Hyannis and Falmouth hospitals.
It turned out the step-down facilities were never needed, since the hospitals were able to handle the coronavirus cases that came their way — a fact that health care and government officials attributed to good management of the crisis.
“We got through COVID very well,” Lauf said.
But he said hospital procedures and patient visits are not up to their pre-COVID-19 levels.
“We certainly haven’t been made whole,” he said.
The last large-scale layoff at Cape Cod Healthcare took place in 2008, when 169 employees lost their jobs to address what Dr. Richard Salluzzo, CEO at the time, called a deficit situation running in the millions of dollars.
Fishbein said he has seen pandemic-related layoffs take place at other hospitals, but he wasn’t aware of the job losses at Cape Cod Healthcare until Friday’s announcement.
Union representatives will sit down with hospital officials to see if there are other job opportunities in the system for laid-off union members and if cost savings can be found elsewhere, Fishbein said.
It’s ironic that health care workers heralded as heroes during the pandemic are on the chopping block, Fishbein said.
Bruce Johnston, chairman of Cape Cod Healthcare’s board of trustees, said the health care system can’t employ people whose jobs have vanished in the pandemic.
“Patient behavior has changed, and the work doesn’t exist,” he said.
Follow Cynthia McCormick on Twitter: @Cmccormickcct.