Furloughs, Pay Cuts and Layoffs on the Rise in the Healthcare Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the working status of healthcare providers in an unexpected way for many. Once considered an industry immune to employment uncertainty during times of crisis, healthcare industry workers are also experiencing furloughs, pay cuts, and layoffs—which are now occurring at unsettling rates. In a positive turn, however, it does seem that healthcare companies like Vohra Wound Physicians that have been practicing telemedicine for many years—or those that have swiftly activated telehealth in their facilities—have been able to manage the employment downturn.
Becker’s Hospital Review has been keeping a furlough toll since March 27th, and the number is now up to 117 hospitals, with about 8-12 new hospitals added daily. Surprisingly, even doctors and emergency personnel are not safe: WCPO ABC News Cincinnati has reported that Cincinnati-area doctors and paramedics are facing pay cuts as COVID-19 threatens to impact the bottom line of hospital systems and medical companies.
Some health care workers are being spared, however. Workers in healthcare settings where a strong telehealth system has been in place or settings where an effective telehealth system has been quickly implemented since the pandemic started are still working and treating patients. Still, the question remains: why are healthcare workers, including physicians, anxious about job security during a health pandemic?
Telemedicine at Home
Hospitals await CARES Act funds
On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed a $2-trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill into law. The legislation, known as the CARES Act, aimed to spread relief across the economy during these unprecedented times. According to Forbes, “the deal provided over $140 billion in appropriations to support the U.S. health system, $100-billion of which would be injected directly into hospitals.”
On April 10, 2020, after hospitals furloughed staff and reduced physician salaries, $30 billion of the $100 billion was released to support healthcare institutions. Still, the American Hospital Association (AHA), which has been pleading for the release of the funds as soon as possible, is asking for more.
Rick Pollack, president and CEO of AHA, has pushed for the release of the additional funds, stating that hospitals in COVID-19 hot spots need the assistance and hospitals that have already received assistance need more.
Dr. Bruce Siegel, president and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals, stated “our hospitals are struggling now to manage surging patient volume, staff and supply shortages, and other severe challenges as their limited cash reserved dwindle,” while also mentioning that Medicare’s fee-for-service allocation formula is not sufficient and leaves essential hospitals behind.
Hospitals are losing money from canceled elective surgeries
Elective surgeries started to be canceled in early March to save resources for coronavirus patients. On March 14, 2020, the Surgeon General advised hospitals and health care systems to consider stopping elective procedures amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and the overwhelming majority followed suit.
The cancellation in elective surgeries and procedures has caused hospitals and surgery centers to lose their main source of immediate revenue and not be able to make payroll. According to Health Care Finance, “COVID-19 revenue could make up for some of the loses, but the impact won’t be felt immediately.”
Physician pay cuts
Hospitals across the country are asking physicians who are not treating COVID-19 patients to take substantial pay cuts and sign new contracts, many of which do not have an end date. In a New York Times article, Scott Weavil, a lawyer in California who counsels physicians and other healthcare workers on employment contracts said he has heard that doctors across the country are being asked to take 20 to 70 percent pay cuts.
Additionally, hospital-employed and private practice physicians who are on patient volume-related contracts are taking substantial pay cuts as patient volume continues to fall. This has placed a substantial amount of stress on small offices, many of which have already closed or are planning to close in the near future.
How some physicians are getting by during these hard times
Some physicians are getting creative during the COVID-19 pandemic. General surgeons, who have intensive care training and experience, have moved to the front line in the fight against COVID-19.
Many family practice physicians have quickly set up telehealth and telemedicine platforms so they can continue to treat patients and take advantage of the recent stimulus package that helps more Americans pay for telehealth. Physicians from all specialties have joined practices that have well-established telehealth and telemedicine platforms.
No one knows what the future holds. Physicians and healthcare workers who stay up to date on the latest news regarding the furloughs, pay cuts, and lay-offs can gather information to help make a career-changing decision if need be.