Press-Republican

December 8, 2012

Adirondack Health cuts 17 jobs

KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

SARANAC LAKE — A long-term fiscal restructuring plan for Adirondack Health includes 17 layoffs.

Some of those jobs, along with eight openings that will remain vacant, will be cut from Adirondack Medical Center and others from the system’s satellite health centers and nursing homes, hospital spokesman Joe Riccio said Friday.

In addition, salaries for all management and leadership staff are frozen through 2013.

“In some cases, personnel have the option of pursuing other openings within the organization,” hospital said in a news release.

OTHER SAVINGS

The hospital is moving drug purchases through what is called the 340-B federal drug-pricing program to lower costs and achieve $1.5 million in savings.

All medical-transcription services are being switched over to a specialty firm to save another $250,000.

And Adirondack Health plans to ask the nursing and commercial-food-workers’ unions to reopen their contracts.

PATIENT CARE

The restructured fiscal focus looks to preserve core patient-care services.

Riccio said in an interview that the staffing cuts will not have any effect on patient care.

“We provide best-in-class health care to the people of the Adirondacks,” Adirondack Health President and CEO Chandler Ralph said in a statement. “But we have been losing money on many services at an unsustainable rate.

“The health-care reimbursement system is broken, and rather than being rewarded for our commitment to the region, hospitals and health systems nationwide are being financially penalized.”

Last year, 59 percent of all hospitals in New York experienced a negative bottom line, Riccio said in the news release.

“Despite this trend, Adirondack Health has a $120 million annual impact on the local economy — a responsibility it takes very seriously.”

CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh also recently announced staff layoffs and other cost-cutting measures.

Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone laid off 12 people and closed 13 unfilled full-time positions last spring.

LOOKING AHEAD

Ralph said the restructuring plan at Adirondack Health will provide a responsible and sound foundation for moving forward.

“I am confident we will overcome these financial challenges to ensure that we can deliver leading care to the region for another hundred years,” she said.

Margaret Sorensen, chief nursing officer for Adirondack Health, said they will work closely with employees to help them transition to other positions they may qualify for in the system. 

Cuts to hospital and health-center staff are necessary due to the labor-intensive nature of the health-care profession, officials said.

UNHAPPY NEWS

William Van Slyke is vice president of communications for the Healthcare Association of New York State, a lobbying group based in Rensselaer for the statewide medical-care industry.

“I can tell you this announcement will join a growing list of unhappy news across the state,” he told the Press-Republican.

“We’re are tracking this, and so far, through 2012, New York has lost nearly 1,000 health-care jobs. These are across-the-board cuts, from direct-care staff to administration and, really, everything in-between.”

That measure reflects the loss at Adirondack Health.

The 17 layoffs in Saranac Lake and surrounding communities include nurses and management staff, Riccio said.

“The reason for it is no mystery,” Van Slyke said.

Two-thirds of hospitals in New York are losing money.

“Health-care reimbursement — the government programs in particular, through Medicare and Medicaid — continue to pay less than the cost of care,” he said. “So on virtually every Medicaid and Medicare service a hospital provides, they lose money. 

“And if 65 to 75 percent of your operating costs is labor, when your revenue continues to fall off, there are very few options. It is absolutely agonizing for these hospitals. The last thing a hospital wants to do is eliminate jobs.”

‘FAR WORSE’

The prognosis for health-care providers is not good, despite the ever-rising cost of health insurance.

“It’s likely to not stop. It’s likely to get far worse,” Van Slyke said.

“Right now, down in Washington, we’re looking at tens of billions of dollars of proposed new cuts to Medicare, primarily.”

What does that mean?

“It means hospitals have learned to do more with less. But I think we’ve crossed a threshold where hospitals will have to do less with less,” Van Slyke said.

“The brave new world of health-care reform has a downside: layoffs of health-care staff and layoffs at businesses that support heath-care providers — every health-care job lost generates a second indirect loss of a second job in supporting business.”

‘VERY SCARY TIME’

In an interview Friday, Ralph said she sees the same freight train coming.

“The cuts looming are so huge that they really would undermine the changes we are making to deliver services,” she said.

“You don’t change health care by simply cutting payments to providers. You reduce the cost of health care by changing how it is delivered to our patients. And we are doing that with the Medical Home Demonstration Project. We call every patient when they are discharged from this hospital and check in: Have you made your follow-up appointment? Are you taking your medicine? 

“That is to avoid return visits. That’s how we change health-care delivery — and it is a whole lot different than cutting reimbursement payments.”

 She could not say where all the money made from rising health-insurance premiums is going.

“It isn’t going to the doctors. It isn’t going to the hospitals,” she said. “That is a good question.

“I think it is a very scary time.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com