Christus St. Vincent’s safety grade drops

Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center has seen fewer patients during the coronavirus outbreak and is placing 300 employees on temporary leave.

Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center announced Tuesday it is placing 300 employees on “temporary low volume leave” for up to 90 days and potentially longer as its patient load declines during the crisis spurred by the novel coronavirus.

Since mid-March, with a stay-at-home order in force and the governor’s ban on elective surgery and non-urgent procedures, the hospital and its clinics have seen a nearly 35 percent decline in patients, with net revenue down $10 million per month, CEO Lillian Montoya said.

Some employees at Christus St. Vincent, which employs 2,200 people at full strength, could be called back earlier if patient traffic increases enough, Montoya added.

So far, COVID-19 patients have not made up for losses due to the ban on elective surgeries or lack of other patients walking through the doors. The scenario is familiar at a variety of New Mexico hospitals, where smaller and more rural facilities told The New Mexican late last month the crisis could create significant effects on their bottom line.

For Christus St. Vincent, which will be a central facility if COVID-19 outbreaks roll through Northern New Mexico, there have been fewer virus-related patients than seen in facilities in Gallup, Farmington and Albuquerque.

In recent days, positive cases in Santa Fe County have significantly slowed, according to state Department of Health figures.

Christus St. Vincent had two COVID-19 patients in the emergency room Tuesday afternoon, spokesman Arturo Delgado said.

The employees on leave will retain their status as Christus personnel, and benefits remain in place. Employees can use available paid time off, she said.

Montoya said the temporary staff reductions were based on business-critical positions or those related to direct patient care.

Senior management also is taking an unspecified pay cut, Montoya said.

Montoya asked each department to reduce total hours worked by 20 percent.

In an email to employees, Montoya wrote Christus St. Vincent is only performing urgent elective surgeries so “volumes have decreased dramatically.”

“To make this incredibly difficult decision, we conducted a full review of all business essential functions to identify those positions that were not business critical and/or are not direct patient care positions,” she added.

A free-standing emergency department at the Entrada Contenta Health Center has closed until further notice. Reduced hours are in place at a variety of Christus St. Vincent’s specialist centers as well.

“When volumes started dropping precipitously in mid-March, the last three weeks have been very thoughtful and critical,” she said in an interview.

Early on, Montoya said she established an executive task force with 15 people that meets virtually every day. At first, it was a COVID-19 group, but the focus quickly morphed to organizational matters as patient counts plummeted in the second half of March.

“We look at what we are doing, why we are doing it,” Montoya said.

The temporary leave is across the board except for those providing direct patient care, she said.

The length of the temporary leave will last as long as the coronavirus threat and governor’s mandates affect the normal patient flow to Christus St. Vincent facilities.

“It’s possible we will call some people back in the next 90 days,” Montoya said. “Maybe [the leave] will go out 90 days longer.”

Clinics have been closing or reducing hours over the last week and a half and will continue over the next week. A couple of nursing units at the hospital have been closed with patients and nurses consolidated in one area, she said.

“Organization-wide, we have been managing to volume,” she wrote to employees, adding the hospital has temporarily closed or consolidated departments and eliminated or reduced vendor contacts and reduced leased space.

Meanwhile, Los Alamos Medical Center has not had to furlough any of its roughly 200 employees even with a 40 percent decrease in elective surgeries, CEO John Whiteside said.

“We have found other roles for nurses,” Whiteside said. “We have flexed hours if volumes are low. We have been fortunate to this point.”

(20) comments

Drea Jaramillo

This isn’t a furlough its a layoff one thing they conveniently for got to mention. Some employees are being told its not guaranteed they will have their job when this is all said and done. Try being honest with the community that your serving CSV. I understand things have to be done during this time and being honest is one of them. I pray for all the employees who were handed this paperwork last week may you find the strength to get thru a now even more difficult time.

Rick Lohmann

I'm a long-time patient in the CSV system. I have prostate cancer, and seizures. I have had excellent treatment at CSV Cancer Center, and with my CSV affiliated primary physician. They can't seem to fund a large enough neurology staff, though, and the death of one doctor hit them very hard. I look forward to a one-time appointment with the only neurologist (???) currently on staff, who does not take Medicare. I go on Medicare in July, and have to switch to the Presbyterian system. CSV's much-advertised alliance with Mayo Clinic means nothing to me: each time I have asked an MD about it, I get nothing but a questioning look. I called the Mayo ON MY OWN, and got an uninsured appointment in the fall.

Maxwell Vertical

Today, based on a new press release from the governor's office, there wasn't one new case in Santa Fe County. Not one. That's after only one yesterday and one the day before. Great job Santa Fe. We can't do much better than that.

Don Ric

Actually, something between seven and fourteen days of no new cases would be much "better than that", which is, I'm sure, a goal you would consider worthwhile and a benchmark that might justify considering modification of existing restrictions. In the meantime, stay home.

Maxwell Vertical

Sorry, I was trying to share some good news. Have a magical day.

George Welland

Temporarily laying-off workers makes sense, if work loads are down (due to patients rightly rescheduling unnecessary procedures); as the employer retains skilled workers until needed (they may even be eligible for unemployment compensation while still keeping their own health benefits); and as far as I'm concerned, it's wise to have these employees in reserve if staff treating Covid-19 cases become ill and need to be replaced! Now if the state unemployment offices would just figure out how to waive work search requirements and eliminate the need to work a temporary job to re-qualify for quitting a job for personal reasons (in order to honor stay-at-home orders), and basically pay benefits to the unemployed who are otherwise eligible, then hospital workers and the entire state economy would be better off!

Maxwell Vertical

Patients are not rescheduling elective procedures, these procedures have been banned by the governor in anticipation of a surge that is not overwhelming the system. Elective surgeries banned include for example, joint replacements which if not done will incapacitate people and destroy quality of life. They are also a huge revenue stream for hospitals. There are 3000 hospital beds in NM and only about 90 are being used by virus patients, and a smaller percentage require ICU care. This ban on elective procedures alone is already bankrupting hospitals across the state. A number have filed and more will need to do so soon. There’s a good story in the ABQ Journal about this. Google - Rural Hospitals on Life Support New Mexico.

Maxwell Vertical

The reason the number of patients is down is because the governor banned elective surgeries across the state. It’s not because of shelter in place and social distancing. MLG is wrecking healthcare across the state. The New Mexican really missed on this story.

Ted Nugent

@ John: I rarely agree with your fanatical views. I agree this one time.

Maxwell Vertical

The governor needs to ease the restrictions on elective surgeries now! This policy alone is driving rural hospitals across the state into bankruptcy.

Ted Nugent

John: Again, I actually agree with you! For a period, I was hoping you would stop posting because your views were so outlandish. I was wrong. Connie.

Mike Johnson

Seriously??? And the Guv has been telling us we will overload all the hospitals and people will die in the halls for lack of workers and equipment? Something very wrong here.

George Welland

Mr. Johnson, I'm not clear on what your saying about the Guv's comments? Surely you don't think Covid patients should just fill up any and every hospital room even if there are no trained respiratory therapists or other qualified staff or ventilators or sufficient PPE??? I suspect the "Dr." in your title has nothing to do with medicine, right?

Chris Mechels

Chicken Little was wrong it seems, and the sky isn't falling. It seems that the CDC models were wrong, and the U of Washington was right. Unknown why, but it might be something like "the end of flu season". Now, the trick is to unwrap this mess.

Clear at this point is the the State seriously failed the Indians, and reacted late. The also spent a lot of time testing in "dry holes", over in Eastern NM. But, we must not criticize the Trifecta.

Ted Nugent

I always wondered why all the COVID-19 testing in parts of NM where there is no civilization, like the ugly Eastern portion. You are right, Flu season about over. Go back to work and wash your hands better next year. Oh, and cover your mouth. No cure for the common flu and no cure for COVID-19. Connie.

David Gunter

Ah, Chris Mechels once again showing his ignorance. This is the sort of academic laziness his former LANL colleagues loved to bring up when talking about his days there. He still doesn't know sh*t from shinola.

The best epidemic models are only probability models, not accurate simulations one would expect in the fields of say, structural modeling or molecular physics models. They provide a range of outcomes based on present inputed data and social behavior and can change rapidly since people and behavior change rapidly. I would not expect a low-functioning non-scientist computer jock to understand that, so I'll cut him some slack.

The sky isn't falling because we have performed admirably so far, as a community. The problem with this is morons like Chris take that as a sign that we didn't need to do anything at all.

Julie Berman

Chris - Obviously you know more than anyone else or at least your comments come across that way. I say to you, please go out and unwrap your own mess. Gather, socialize and please do not in the foreseeable future wash your hands, wear a mask or gloves. That way you will prove to all of us that you do not support what our governor has had to do. Have a good day and so sorry for you being stuck in your mind.

Ted Nugent

That's when the sky was falling when MLG said that. Now it's a new day. Viva MLG

Lisa Burns

Agree!! Our governor is doing a fantastic job!

Orale’ ! Viva MLG!!

Ted Nugent

@ M Johnson: I used to think you were nuts, but I now actually agree with you. Connie.

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