TACOMA, Wash. — MultiCare Health System will be furloughing 6,000 employees amid plunging revenues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other health care providers like Grays Harbor Community Hospital, Virginia Mason, and Sound Family Medicine have also taken furlough measures.
MultiCare runs eight hospitals and dozens of clinics across Washington. They say from large hospitals like Tacoma General to their Indigo Urgent Care clinics, patient visits have plunged.
“People are still mistaken about what we’re allowed to do or they’re afraid to come out to see a doctor or go to the hospital,” said Dr. David Carlson, MultiCare’s chief physician officer.
He said emergency room visits are down more than 30% while surgeries are down 60%. Dramatically fewer patients mean a big drop in revenue.
MultiCare said it’s facing a budget shortfall of $160 million for this year.
In a video to employees, the company’s CEO said that the budget gap occurs after receiving millions in federal assistance. It was originally facing a $225 million shortfall.
“We have been able to recover some of these losses through funding from the federal CARES Act as well as other federal programs. Through these and other avenues, we’ve managed to make up about $64 million,” said CEO Bill Robertson.
To close the remaining gap, the company says it had to furlough 6,000 nonclinical employees. The furloughs will be rolled out in 17 shifts, one shift per pay period until the end of the year.
Affected employees primarily include those in support departments such as human resources, IT, and finance. In some clinical areas, the furlough might impact employees like receptionists and managers.
Employees can also use vacation time for that day instead of furloughing.
A spokesperson said employees can take the furlough as either individual days or combine the days.
“If they take a full week and it is unpaid, they can apply for unemployment,” the spokesperson said in an email.
“There will be furloughed people at every one of our facilities,” said Carlson. “The real reason we’re doing it is to save people’s jobs,” he said.
“How health care was going to be so remarkably impacted, I don't think anyone saw it coming,” he said.
But Carlson said the drop in patients is concerning for another reason.
“I worry about that a lot. I worry people have been so afraid they’ve delayed care and created harm - something we can’t fix,” he said.
Carlson said they know of cases in western Washington where people having strokes, heart attacks, or appendicitis delayed their care because they were worried to go to the hospital.
He wants you to know you should go see or at least speak with your doctor if you have symptoms of any illness, and that every measure has been taken to ensure patient safety.
“It’s safe to go into the ER or hospital. Without question it’s safe,” Carlson said.
MultiCare hospitals include Tacoma General, Mary Bridge Children’s, Good Samaritan in Puyallup, MultiCare Allenmore Hospital in Tacoma, Auburn Medical Center, Covington Medical Center, Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, Valley Hospital in Spokane Valley, and Rockwood Clinic in Moses Lake.
It also operates dozens of primary care and urgent care clinics.
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