Health system cuts employee hours|Economic woes force cost-cutting measures

Published 10:41 pm Thursday, May 28, 2009

Managing Editor

To help reduce costs, the Beaufort Regional Health System is cutting employee hours by 5 percent, health system officials have announced Tuesday.
Employees were notified Tuesday of the cut in hours, which begin June 1.
According to Pam Shadle, health system director of marketing, public relations and development, employees were given the option to reduce their hours or continue working full-time for less money.
She said employees are taking the news in stride.
“They look around at other industries in this economy and realize that things could be much worse,” Shadle said. “Employees seem to be accepting the cuts gracefully.”
The reduced hours affect all of the health system’s 840 employees.
“All departments are affected equally,” Shadle said. “It’s across the board.”
Though employee hours will drop from 40 to 38 hours per week, the reduction will not affect the Beaufort County Medical Center’s hours of operation or that of its sister medical facilities, Shadle said.
The health system implemented the 5 percent reduction because it “would be the least painful as possible for our employees and give us the financial impact needed,” Shadle explained.
According to a news release from health system Chief Executive Officer Bill Bedsole, the reduction in payroll could save as much as $130,000 per month and almost $800,000 in six months.
“The summer is typically a slower time of year for most hospitals,” Bedsole said. “These changes will not create understaffing because departments match staffing levels with patient volume.”
The release indicated that hospital officials are also implementing other cost-saving measures such as a freeze on travel and employee tuition assistance, as well as working with the management of each department to evaluate ways to become more efficient.
To date, the health system is showing a net income of a bit more than $100,000, Shadle said. It had budgeted to show a net income of $1.7 million by this time. The downturn leaves the system with a current deficit of $1.6 million.
Shadle noted that health system officials began cutting costs in January, including eliminating overtime, freezing merit increases and decreasing the hospital’s contribution to the employee retirement plan, but “it just wasn’t enough to do the things we need to do.
“Health care is not immune, and it’s kind of a domino affect,” Shadle said. “As people lose their jobs they lose their health insurance, but they continue to get sick, and we continue to take care of them.”
Shadle said the system is currently treating 16 percent more patients without health insurance so far this year, and “they are not always able to meet their medical bills.”
Admissions are also down by 9 percent year to date, she added.
According to Shadle, this is the second time system cost-cutting measures have affected employees. The then-Beaufort County Hospital laid off 15 to 20 people about 10 years ago, she explained.
Shadle said system officials hope to reinstate employee hours should the economy sufficiently rebound.