By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer

St. Joseph’s Health is furloughing some employees and reducing some full-time positions to part-time as responding to the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic strains the health system’s capacity and its income declines. The changes at the Syracuse health system are happening across Trinity Health, St. Joseph’s Health’s parent company. Health systems worldwide are facing challenges as they respond to the pandemic.

“These are difficult steps that are intended to make sure we are able to provide the best possible care for our patients and communities through this unprecedented time,” St. Joseph’s president Leslie Paul Luke said in a statement. “We hope to bring back as many of our impacted colleagues as we can at the appropriate time, and, as the situation evolves, affected colleagues may be asked to serve our system in new ways.”

Senior staff at St. Joe’s will take pay cuts, effective this week, and some employees will be reassigned. It’s unclear how many of St. Joe’s approximately 4,800 employees will be affected or for how long.

“We greatly respect and honor the dignity of every single individual affected by these measures,” Luke said in the statement.

Furloughed employees will take time off without pay but will continue to receive benefits including health, dental, and basic life insurance.

St. Joseph’s was acquired in 2015 by Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest Catholic health care delivery systems. The Livonia, Michigan, based system operates 92 hospitals and 109 continuing care facilities, home care agencies, and outpatient centers in 22 states.

Luke became the health system’s 14th president in 2017. St. Joseph’s Health includes the 451-bed St. Joseph’s Hospital and primary, specialty, and home care programs throughout Central New York and Pennsylvania.

“Outpatient and home care services represent more than 50% of our revenues, and they are decreasing significantly,” Trinity Health President and CEO Michael A. Slubowski wrote in an April 1 letter obtained by the Detroit Free Press. “This is understandable because of orders by state and federal governments to stop elective surgeries — and because many healthy patients are unable to visit the doctor at this time.”

“While we are providing more telehealth visits, our estimates are that, even with the increase in inpatient volumes anticipated with the COVID-19 surge, we will not generate enough revenue to cover our costs,” Slubowski wrote. “Before COVID-19, our health ministry was generating a modest 0.5% operating margin. But today, our expenditures are exceeding our revenues significantly — and we expect we will lose millions of dollars through this pandemic.”

St. Joseph’s Health’s “top priority is the care and safety of our colleagues and the people we serve, and our colleagues have never worked harder than they are working today,” Luke said. “Health systems worldwide are under tremendous pressure to prepare for the upcoming COVID-19 surge.”

The hospital continues to recruit providers and clinical staff and reassign employees to address critical needs, he added.

“We are being called to support our Mission and serve as a healing presence for more people than we ever have before,” Luke’s statement continued. “These actions are a necessary response to the changes and challenges impacting health care providers across the country as COVID-19 rapidly spreads and leading health care experts predict a surge of cases over the coming weeks and months.”

The forthcoming federal relief package will help, Slubowski wrote, but “we expect it will not fully cover the deficits we are incurring. If there are ways to more rapidly restore our services and bring people back to work more quickly, you have my commitment that we will do so. … Our mission calls us to ensure we remain viable during and after this pandemic.”

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