Northwest Arkansas hospitals furlough and redeploy some staff, focus on emergencies UPDATED

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 2,036 views 

Health providers in Northwest Arkansas are working through COVID-19 financial challenges resulting from preparing COVID-19 priorities and postponing non-emergency services.

Mercy Northwest Arkansas said none of the hospital’s 2,400 employees or 215 physicians have yet been furloughed, but plans are in place if that becomes necessary. Mercy said its hospital in Rogers is redeploying some impacted workers to other areas. For employees not being redeployed the hospital has two support programs. The first is a new COVID-19 furlough pay program that provides up to 80 hours of pay, prorated based on their traditional hours worked. The program is available to workers who have a lack of work during the pandemic and is available to all employees hired on or before March 22.

Mercy also has set up a co-worker paid time off bank. Employees affected by service closures can draw on this bank once they have exhausted their available PTO, and workers who have remaining PTO can donate to the fund.

“During difficult times, Mercy is known to step up for its co-workers,” said Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer, executive vice president and chief administrative officer. “We learned many lessons about helping our co-workers in their time of need after the devastating Joplin tornado in 2011. We hope these programs offer some peace of mind to co-workers affected by canceled and reduced services due to COVID-19.”

Mercy said the priority is to place co-workers in areas where their talents and skills fit and where Mercy is seeing an increase in volume, such as “nurse on call” and other virtual services.

“We’ve created more than 100 new clinical and non-clinical positions, and we’re actively filling those roles with co-workers from other areas. They will receive their regular pay in those temporary positions,” said John Roller, executive director of human resources for Mercy Northwest Arkansas. “We are also planning for redeployments within the hospital if we get a surge of patients.”

Washington Regional Medical System in Fayetteville is in the midst of furloughing some of its employees who work in areas where services have been temporarily suspended. Hospital officials were clear this is not a lay-off and said those impacted will be recalled once the emergency is over. Hospital officials said they are using several strategies as federal and state authorities have mandated a reduction in non-urgent and non-emergency surgical, diagnostic and outpatient procedures.

“We have afforded our team members the ability to receive their regular base pay even if they were not able to secure work for their customary hours. As with other health systems, Washington Regional is developing labor management plans that will include a furlough. A furlough is a reduction in days or weeks an employee may work – it is not a layoff,” the hospital noted in its official statement.

Northwest Health System operates hospitals in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Johnson, Siloam Springs and Springdale. Denten Park, Market CEO for Northwest Health, provided the following statement:

“As we’ve moved through the initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis like other health care providers in our state and nation, Northwest Health’s five hospitals, outpatient centers and clinic operations have been impacted by the temporary discontinuation of elective procedures, as recommended by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS.) There has also been an increase in patients self-selecting to postpone inpatient and outpatient medical care and treatments. Like other hospitals, we are seeing significantly fewer patients. This significant decline in our volumes created an increased need to manage all expenses, including our workforce. We are carefully monitoring staff through flexing schedules and employee use of vacation time to be with their families and/or to rest before we see possible surges in volumes. We’ve also focused on cross-training individuals qualified to cover other key areas. In a few instances, we’ve had to make incredibly difficult decisions to go further than reducing hours.  However, at this time, Northwest Health has not initiated any major furloughs or layoffs. These are unchartered and challenging times for our industry. We are experiencing uncertainty and must continue to be flexible, based on a fluid environment and rapidly changing dynamics.”

Other hospitals around the state, including Little Rock-based Baptist Health and St. Bernards in Jonesboro, are also facing similar challenges related to COVID-19.