TAOS — As hospitals in New Mexico and the U.S. struggle with financial pressure and reduce staffing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Holy Cross Medical Center in Taos announced this week it is offering its employees additional pay.
Bill Patten, chief executive officer of Holy Cross, said the hospital would be offering an additional $2 an hour for eight pay periods as a “loyalty differential.”
At the end, he said, he will reassess the situation and may extend the extra pay. The cost is estimated at $400,000, “an amount Holy Cross cannot afford,” Patten said, “especially given reduced volumes and revenue.”
But, he said, failing to increase employee pay amid the pandemic could prove even more costly.
“The evaluation that we made was that while we can’t afford it today, in the long run, we can’t afford not to do it,” Patten said. “For us to have any sort of an exodus of employees would then result in us having to bring in additional [traveling nurses], and at this point, travelers are becoming even more expensive because of some of the salaries that are being offered in the hot-spot cities.”
Pay for traveling nurses has skyrocketed, in some cases more than doubling, according to NurseFly, a job-listing site for nurses. In New York, one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19, some earn as much as $6,000 a week.
Eleanor Chavez, executive director of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees District 1199NM, which represents Holy Cross workers, said the temporary pay bump Patten has committed to is not the same as “hazard pay,” which the union had asked the hospital to consider. Patten declined to engage in negotiations over the request last month, she said.
Patten and his executive staff have had their hands full adapting to the pandemic. Patient volumes have plummeted, both because of fear of exposure at the facility, where 15 people had tested positive by April 15, and also because several services have been halted, including imaging, laboratory procedures, elective surgeries and physical therapy.
With a few weeks to go before the state’s predicted surge in COVID-19 cases, the cost to Holy Cross already appears to be significant.
“It’s our estimate that we are losing at least 40 percent of our normal revenue, and I think 40 percent is probably conservative,” Patten said. “It wouldn’t surprise me that, when we get all the numbers in, it will be a much higher number than that.”
The hospital still has $2 million remaining out of $5 million in taxes collected through a 2016 mill levy. Patten said the hospital is trying to not touch those reserve funds.
Holy Cross received a federal loan of around $7 million that can be paid off with no interest within a certain deadline. Add a $4.8 million loan from the Small Business Association and a grant of $800,000, Patten said, and the hospital’s cash position is the best it’s been in a long time.
“What we’ve been trying to do is prepare a reserve so that over the rest of April and going into May, when our billings are just going to fall off the table, that we have the cash to survive,” he said.
This story first appeared in The Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.