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Watertown hospital will lay off 51

Samaritan says reasons are pandemic, less CARES aid than expected

Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown (Provided photo — Sydney Schaefer, Watertown Daily Times)

WATERTOWN — Still trying to cope with the economic fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Samaritan Health announced Thursday that 51 employees will be laid off, effective immediately. Additionally, 44 open positions will not be filled, resulting in a total of 95 impacted positions.

According to Leslie DiStefano, director of communication and public relations for Samaritan, those 44 positions consisted of management positions as well as roles that were impacted by lower patient volumes such as support staff. Samaritan determined the work could be absorbed into other roles in the organization. Twenty-one other employees placed on furlough in April will have their furloughs extended indefinitely. According to a release from the hospital, Samaritan aims to call these employees back to work when patient volume and operations stabilize.

“Prior to 2020, Samaritan experienced a decade of uninterrupted growth in revenue and services,” Tom Carman, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “… the drastic negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patient volumes and revenue has necessitated the difficult measures we’re taking to ensure the continued financial viability of our healthcare system.”

According to the release, the hospital is still hiring for a number of critical positions, and many of the impacted employees will have the opportunity to apply for these 200 open positions. Samaritan’s human resources team will be working with those employees to help fill these roles.

If a different position within the health care system is not possible, human resources will coordinate with the state Department of Labor to provide outplacement assistance. Staff members impacted who do not find another position within the organization will be offered a severance package based on their years of service.

The positions affected span several departments, from nursing to senior leadership.

The staffing changes will result in a $5 million cost reduction from salaries for the health care system, which faces an anticipated $10 million revenue shortfall for the year. The shortfall is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in patient volumes dropping by as much as 40% at certain points throughout the year, higher costs for PPE and testing, among other unanticipated expenses.

In addition, federal CARES Act relief provided to Samaritan was much less than expected, according to Samaritan, as the organization missed out on the initial round of rural funding, and proportionately far less than others in the region. Samaritan also did not receive Paycheck Protection Program funds due to being designated an urban area and employing more than 500 people.

“Health care systems everywhere are facing the same financial constraints driven primarily by fewer patients,” Carman said. “We recognize the important role Samaritan plays as the largest private employer in the community, with more than 2,300 full-time employees, and it’s our intention to place the interests of our patients and our broad employee base first as we continue to weather this challenge.”

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