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.”