Jennie Stuart Health laid off 248 employees Tuesday due to no elective surgeries or outpatient procedures being performed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Andy Beshear called for all elective surgeries and outpatient procedures to stop statewide March 18 in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and to focus all health professionals on saving those afflicted with the virus.

“This is an incredibly difficult time for our health system, and this is not a decision we made lightly. I regret the immediate personal impact on these employees and their families,” Jennie Stuart Health CEO Eric Lee said in a Wednesday morning news release. “However, we must reflect in our staffing how the current reality has changed the resources needed to care for the dramatic shift in our volumes of non-COVID-19 patients. We believe this is a necessary step to stem the revenue losses we will continue to experience until this national health crisis is contained.”

Lee said Jennie Stuart normally has about a thousand employees, with some of those part-time in various departments, and laying off 248 is a significant loss.

“A significant percentage of employees are related to our offices that are closed,” he said, noting there were reductions in staff across the hospital, including employees who were part of rehabilitation, geriatric behavioral health and Convenient Care, to name a few.

Jennie Stuart Health announced Friday that its Convenient Care facility is closed until further notice.

Anyone needing urgent care should call their physician’s office, visit the emergency department or call 911 for emergencies.

Lee said Jennie Stuart is among many hospitals that have had to lay off staff in the past month.

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, 59 hospital systems across the country have laid off hundreds so far, with many citing a dip in revenue due to no elective surgeries, like Jennie Stuart.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare, a 13-hospital system in Lexington, will furlough about 500 employees and St. Claire HealthCare in Morehead announced it will furlough 300 employees who are not involved in direct patient care to ensure it can sustain clinical operations during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, Becker reported.

The reasons are identical to Jennie Stuart’s dilemma, Lee noted, saying the hospital has to control its costs by reducing expenses in the interim.

“We’re having to unfortunately impact employees while we try to get costs down,” he said, noting that staff that was laid off will have benefits until the end of April.

“We could not determine how long this pandemic is going to exist or how long the government-imposed shutdown (on elective procedures) will last,” Lee said. “So, we weren’t able to furlough our employees because we could not define for our employees when we could bring them back.

“It is our absolute hope to bring our people back,” he continued. “We have a fantastic group of employees, and this is not something we wanted to do.”

Some staff at the hospital also are working on reduced hours, Lee noted.

The release from the hospital stated that Jennie Stuart Health is committed to continuing the provision of all necessary health care services throughout the months ahead.

Lee said the mission now is making sure the hospital retains its respiratory nurses as well as the technology and supplies it needs to mobilize in the event of a surge of COVID-19 cases.

“While we were planning how to cut costs, we have been planning how we will have the clinical professionals that we need to be able to take care and treat this disease,” the CEO said. “We’re working closely with our regional hospitals and the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network, and they’ve pledged to help. If we see that surge, they are here for us.”

While the health system hopes to recall impacted employees in the future, the timeframe for restoration of positions will be based on the long-term recovery of Jennie Stuart Health from its current financial and business challenges, the release stated.

“This action does not impede our ability to care for the people of Christian County and our surrounding communities,” Lee said. “Throughout this crisis, our focus will remain steadfastly on patient care.”

Lee said nurses and physicians in COVID-19 care are working tirelessly to care for individuals in the community who have the virus. As of Wednesday evening, three COVID-19 patients had died and 36 active cases are in Christian County.

Lee said the deaths and the overall pandemic is “emotionally very difficult” for the staff.

“With COVID patients, as they deteriorate they require more intensive care, so our nurses were giving very intensive care,” he said of the local residents who died. “They become very close with those patients and their families, and we share in the pain of these families.”

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