Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
St. Joseph Healthcare has furloughed about 100 of its 1,200 employees — or 8 percent of its workforce — after suffering steep financial losses related to preparations for the coronavirus.
In addition, about 30 employees with administrative roles at the Bangor-based health care system have voluntarily taken pay cuts of up to 20 percent.
The majority of the furloughed staff have volunteered to take the time off in recent weeks as the organization that runs St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor and its affiliated physician practices has delayed non-emergency services and the pandemic has forced families to make alternative arrangements for child care, according to President and CEO Mary Prybylo.
The furloughs have varied in length. Some employees have taken them without pay, while others have chosen to use their paid leave. The furloughs have applied to staff who do both clinical and administrative work.
“Certainly nobody wanted to take time off, but it wasn’t like we had to go and say, ‘You’re furloughed,’” Prybylo said. “It says so much about our staff that they were stepping forward.” She added, “We are so looking forward to the day when we can have our staff back and have patients getting the treatment they need.”
Like many Maine health care organizations, St. Joe’s has spent considerably in the last two months on protective equipment, staff training and other costs meant to prevent the spread of the virus and prepare for a possible influx of infected patients.
While St. Joseph Hospital has admitted patients who tested positive for the coronavirus, it has never had more than two admitted at the same time, spokeswoman Kelly David said.
At the same time, the organization has postponed many elective services in areas such as its surgical suite and in its clinical practices that normally help to pay the bills. Those areas of the organization have also been more heavily affected by the furloughs, according to David.
As a result, the Bangor health care system finished March with an operating loss of about $4 million and is looking to end April with an even greater loss, according to Prybylo. Now, the hospital is working with other health care organizations in Greater Bangor to determine when they can safely resume offering those other services that have been put off.
“Where we had been doing pretty well in January and February, it was pretty disturbing to see that drop,” Prybylo said. “Hopefully we can start turning things around in May.”
At St. Joe’s, furloughed workers have continued to receive benefits including health insurance, and they have been allowed to postpone paying their own share of their premiums until after they resume working, according to Prybylo. The hospital has also been helping furloughed workers to seek federal unemployment assistance.
Other Maine health care organizations have taken their own approach to the revenue challenges from the coronavirus. St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston, which is part of the Covenant Health network that also includes St. Joe’s, has furloughed 77 workers, or 5 percent of its staff, according to the Sun Journal.
Brewer-based Northern Light Health has offered voluntary furloughs to workers at the hospitals in its system, including Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Penobscot Community Health Care, which operates clinics across Penobscot, Waldo and Somerset counties, has furloughed at least 75 of its approximately 800 employees.
Central Maine Healthcare, which runs hospitals in Lewiston, Rumford and Bridgton, furloughed about 330 of its approximately 3,200 workers and cut the pay of its top executives earlier this month. In Aroostook County, Houlton Regional Hospital and Cary Medical Center in Caribou have both cut employee pay.
Watch: What Nirav Shah is most worried about