Hennepin County Medical Center leaders announced the layoff of more than 131 workers this week, saying they believe it will resolve a projected financial crisis at the hospital caused by worsening reimbursements for patient care.
The announcement drew angry responses from affected employees, including a protest by cleaners and clerical workers Thursday afternoon and criticism by a bioelectronics technician, who predicted that the hospital will end up spending more by outsourcing critical tasks.
Circling the downtown Minneapolis hospital and chanting, "Who does the work? We do!" HCMC workers said the cuts fall disproportionately on low-wage employees and not on upper administration. "We're tired of this," said Carmen Brown, the president of AFSCME Local 977, whose job is intact. "Why is it always us?"
Layoffs have been expected since late last year, when HCMC leaders announced plans to eliminate jobs and use attrition and wage freezes to save more than $30 million. The hospital has reported retaining a stable number of patients, but is facing financial losses because a rising share of patients are paid for at lower rates under the state's Medical Assistance program.
Workers learned on Wednesday which jobs would be lost. The layoffs amount to 131 full-time positions, but actually affect more employees because many worked part-time. The reduction represents 2 percent of HCMC's 6,000 full-time equivalent positions.
"We've worked hard to minimize the loss of jobs, but we recognize that this is a difficult time for those who are losing their employment and for their families and colleagues," said Dr. Jon Pryor, HCMC's chief executive, in a written statement. "We have done our best to ensure that the reduction in force has been done in an equitable and respectful way."
Changes include the elimination of the bioelectronics staff, which maintains and fixes medical equipment, preps anesthesia pumps and observes diagnostic and monitoring systems at certain surgeries. Universal Hospital Services of Edina has reached a contract with HCMC to take over that role, but one technician losing his job said the deal doesn't make sense.
The department's annual budget is about $2.3 million, but the contract calls for annual payments of more than $4.8 million to the private firm, he said. And while HCMC's existing staff consists mostly of professionally certified technicians, the final consulting contract did not require that level of expertise.
"It's a direct correlation to patient safety when you have less qualified technicians doing the work," said the technician, who spoke on condition of anonymity as an HCMC employee.
HCMC officials said the contract actually will replace $6 million in hospital spending, because Universal will take over bioelectronics as well as other equipment services. Universal also has been urged to hire existing HCMC technicians, though they expect to be asked to take a pay cut.
A statement from the hospital said layoffs included management and inpatient care positions, and were determined by analyzing where HCMC had more staff compared to other hospitals. Layoffs alone are projected to save $11 million per year.
HCMC is building an ambulatory center across from its main hospital that is anticipated to entice more patients covered by private insurance, which pays at higher rates and typically keeps hospitals in the black. Its construction is financed largely by $192 million in bonds and its opening in 2018 isn't expected to change even in light of HCMC's budget challenges.
The ongoing construction was a bitter sight for protesters losing their jobs, though. Rome Bommersbach, 22, cleans the lobby of the hospital's red building and said he would be losing more than just his income as of next month.
"This is my second family," he said, "because I'm here full time."