ST. ALBANS – While 47 members of Northwestern Medical Center (NMC)’s staff have opted for voluntary layoffs under the St. Albans hospital’s stabilization plan, more layoffs would be needed in order to meet the hospital’s staffing targets.
Speaking with the Messenger Wednesday, NMC’s vice president of community relations Jonathan Billings said the hospital would need to trim another 40 full-time equivalent positions in order to reduce enough staff under its stabilization plan.
“This is just one piece of the hospital’s plan to return to sustainability,” Billings said. “It was successful for a voluntary reduction, but there is more reduction necessary to get our staffing levels to where they need to be to match our volumes and our future plans.”
While several positions lost through voluntary layoffs would need to be backfilled, Billings said the overall reduction equated to cutting NMC’s staff by 29 full-time employees.
The reductions, Billings said, came from a “mixture of organizations” at the hospital, including wellness specialists, medical assistants, patient accounting representatives, administrative assistants and practice support specialists.
The voluntary layoff program wasn’t available to medical staff or to positions that have historically proven harder for the hospital to fill, like bedside nurses, according to Billings.
Prior to staff reductions, NMC employed approximately 850 people, making the St. Albans hospital one of the largest employers in Franklin County.
With many of those workers working part time, NMC’s staff overall equated to 690 full-time positions, meaning plans to reduce the staff by 69 full-time equivalent positions equated to a 10 percent reduction in force.
NMC originally announced in April it would be seeking a “voluntary reduction in force” as a part of a wider plan for stabilizing the hospital’s finances after several years of budgeting challenges and deficits.
Hospital leadership has historically attributed financial struggles to the delayed adoption of an electronic records system, its reliance on more expensive traveling staff to make up for longstanding staffing challenges and an 8 percent cut in the hospital’s fee rates made in 2015.
While fees at the hospital were raised in fall last year during the hospital’s most recent budgeting cycle, an attempt to raise those fees further earlier this month was denied by the Green Mountain Care Board, the regulatory body charged with approving hospital budgets.
At the time, members of the board questioned the hospital’s reasoning for an emergency rate spike, especially as Vermonters struggled financially with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying “stay home, stay safe” orders.
NMC ended its most recent fiscal year with a $9.3 million deficit.
According to Billings, announcements would be made “in the coming weeks” on the program reductions the hospital was drafting as a part of its sustainability plan.
“We put a real emphasis on making sure the people who are directly impacted are the first to hear,” Billings said. “But I think in the coming weeks, you will see announcements about that as we either resize services or divest services or even transition services to other partners.”
NMC has already announced significant cuts to Franklin and Grand Isle counties’ branch of RiseVT, a public health initiative started at the St. Albans hospital, and would no longer open a lifestyle medicine office in downtown St. Albans as a part of St. Albans City’s Congress and Main redevelopment project.
The hospital has also said it hoped to balance some of its revenue losses through remote telehealth and telemedicine services, which have found wider use in recent months as people opt to stay home and hospitals nationwide seek to reduce nonessential traffic during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.