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WellStar Health System temporarily furloughs more than 1,000 employees

The Wellstar Health System announced Wednesday it will implement temporary furloughs for more than 1,000 of its employees through July 31, according to a news release from the healthcare provider.

According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), the financial impact on health systems from COVID-19 is estimated to be more than $200B through June alone, due primarily to preparation to care for COVID-19 patients and reduced patient volumes.

Wellstar is one of Georgia’s largest healthcare systems, employing 24,300 employees and serves communities throughout the state, including LaGrange with West Georgia Medical Center.

The news release from Wellstar said several steps have already been taken to minimize the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and stabilize the system. Such measures beyond the furloughs include a hiring freeze and elimination of contract labor, reduction of expenses and capital expenditures, eliminating overtime and bonuses, and adjusting senior executive and physician pay,

The news release said those employees affected retain healthcare benefits, have the option to use paid time off to minimize the financial impact and many should qualify for CARES Act support.

Also, a temporary reduction in hours through July 31 will go into effect for several team members who were experiencing low work volume, representing about 7 percent of the workforce.

“I am proud of the way our team members have served the needs of our patients and communities during this pandemic,” said Candice Saunders, president and chief executive officer of the Wellstar Health System in a news release. 

“They are all healthcare heroes to me. The financial reality is that, despite treating COVID-19 patients, our patient volumes overall have been drastically reduced since mid-March, leaving many of our team members with a substantially reduced workload. While we expect patient volumes to gradually return to near-normal levels during the fourth quarter of the year, Wellstar is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in a financial deficit for 2020, even with the expected CARES Act provider funding relief.”

Wellstar’s Chief Financial Officer Jim Budzinski said as a not-for-profit health system, WellStar has always been conscious about its ability to fund its mission.

“When elective procedures were postponed, and steps were taken to successfully flatten the curve, resources were redirected to help contain the spread of COVID-19,” Budzinski said. “While our actions were necessary, they significantly reduced our patient volumes and impacted our financial stability. We are taking strategic measures that will enable us to continue providing personalized patient care and services, both now and in the future.”

The news release said while the health system resumed many of its normal healthcare services in May, including time-sensitive essential procedures, and patient volumes have started to improve — it is expected that the return to near-normal patient volumes will be much more gradual than the dramatic decline in-patient volumes experienced in mid-March.

“By taking these various measures, Wellstar believes it will continue to have a financially stable health system, now and in the future,” the news release said.