3 Northeast Ohio hospitals announce more than 200 layoffs

St. Vincent Charity Hospital Cleveland

Updated 4:15 p.m.

Three hospitals in the Cleveland-Akron area on Tuesday announced more than 200 layoffs and unveiled plans to shutter some programs and expand others to try and adjust to lower patient volumes and tough economic times.

Akron General Medical Center said it would lay off 145, largely non-medical, positions. St. Vincent Charity Hospital and St. John West Shore will lay off 60 staff members – both clinical and non-clinical jobs.

There were additional announcements in the state. The Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati also said Tuesday it would layoff about 50 employees at two of its hospitals, spokesman Tony Condia confirmed.

“We are facing unprecedented challenges in our economy,” said Wendy Hoke, spokeswoman for Sisters of Charity Health System, which along with University Hospitals manages St. Vincent and St. John West Shore. “The weakening economic climate is resulting in lower in-patient volumes, requiring us to take immediate and decisive action to ensure that we have the resources to sustain our operations and invest in the future of the hospitals.”

Akron General stated in a press release that few of the positions were in direct patient care. However, cardiac rehabilitation services in satellite offices will be moved to system’s main campus.

The 145 jobs represent about 2.5 percent of Akron General’s overall staff. Hospital spokesman Jim Gosky said the health system had already cut 218 positions by not filling open jobs. The latest layoffs will save Akron General $5.1 million. Including the previous reductions, the health system have saved more than $17 million in salary and benefits, Gosky said.

In the case of St.Vincent and St. John West Shore, the hospitals will along with the layoffs eliminate an additional 15 full-time positions by cutting open positions and reducing staff hours. The two hospitals employ about 2,400 people – meaning they cut roughly 3 percent of its staff.

Of the layoffs, 50 will be at St. Vincent. The remaining 10 will come from St. John West Shore. The cuts will save $3 million at St. Vincent and $2.4 million at St. John West Shore.

The jobs are both “clinical and non-clinical,” Hoke said, declining to elaborate further.

This is the latest in a string of hospital layoffs this year, though the first major jobs cuts in Northeast Ohio. The Mount Carmel Health System in Central Ohio cut 300 jobs in January. Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic earlier announced a hiring freeze and MetroHealth Medical Center has warned of potential layoffs later this year.

The layoffs will only reinforce warnings from the Ohio Hospital Association, which last week released a letter it sent to Gov. Ted Strickland opposing proposals in hte state budget. Hospitals say they will cut jobs and services if the state goes ahead with a new franchise fee that will cost hospitals a total of $598 million.

The state wants to use the money to obtain additional matching funds and has pledged to refund some of the money to health systems. But the Ohio Hospital Association says it wants all the fees returned and is lobbying in the statehouse to change the budget.

The governor’s office has said every sector of the state will have to make sacrifices in this economy.

There will be some changes in services at some of the hospitals that announced cutbacks today. St. John West Shore would close its Center for Sleep Disorders and Healthy Artery Screening program.

St. Vincent would end its Healthy Artery Program and an intravenous therapy team dedicated to dedicated to handling difficult IV procedures. St. Vincent staff members will be trained in IV therapy to provide the service throughout the hospital, Hoke said.

St. Vincent’s Cardiac Medical Unit would operate around the clock, seven days a week. It also would convert 34 semi-private rooms on a medical surgical floor to 20 private rooms.

Some of these changes are meant to modernize the hospital, Hoke said. For example, private rooms are more common today and dedicated IV teams are less common because of their expense.

“We’re using this to handle short-term issues but also set directions for the future, which we think is going to be very strong,” Hoke said.

The announcement comes a week after Sisters of Charity and University Hospitals announced plans to change their operating agreement for Ohio three hospitals, including St. Vincent and St. John West Shore.

Under the new agreement, Sisters of Charity would take sole ownership and management of St. Vincent and Mercy Medical Center in Canton. Meanwhile, the two systems would continue to share ownership of St. John West Shore, but UH would take over management of that hospital.

As part of the new operating deal, St. John would receive $100 million in fresh investment from the two health systems, while St. Vincent would receive $30 million to start a fund-raising foundation for the hospital.

Hoke said there is no connection between the new operating agreement and the employment and program changes announced today.

“The announcements made last week about our hospitals are exciting,” she said. “However, it will take a number of months to begin implementing these new plans. Since the letter of intent is a nonbinding agreement, those monies would not be available until the closing of the deal later this year and are structured as investments over a period of time.”

Hoke said other Sisters of Charity facilities – Providence Hospitals in South Carolina and Mercy Medical Center – have not experienced a drop in patient volumes. “The decision to make cuts at St. John West Shore and St. Vincent Charity Hospital is a response to a drop in patient volumes,” she said.