Health care workers learn of further cuts in benefits


Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

In 2019, Macon County EMS transported 28 patients to Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Cherokee County — with an average of 30 patients transported to the facility annually for the last five years. The majority of Macon County residents transferred to Erlanger’s Cherokee County hospital are Nantahala residents, who are about 20 minutes closer to Erlanger than Angel Medical Center. Nantahala residents are more frequently transported to Erlanger Hospital in Cherokee County than any other hospital in the region. 

Macon County residents who work at Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital were dealt another blow Monday via email when they learned that specific positions within the hospital system were having their salaries cut by 5 percent. 

Erlanger Health System announced at the end of March that they had enacted a “temporary expense reduction plan” by furloughing some administrative employees, cutting    leadership pay, reducing overtime, suspending vacation accruals, suspending job recruitment for administrative positions and suspending retirement contributions by the company. In the email, employees were notified that paid time off or PTO, which is accrued based on time worked, is being suspended beginning with the current pay period. PTO balances will remain intact and accessible to employees, but any PTO that would be accrued as a result of additional hours worked during the pandemic, will not be generated. Erlanger will also no longer contribute to employee retirement plans during the indefinite suspension. 

In addition to the changes for employees, the email stated that Erlanger President and CEO Dr. Will Jackson will take a 15 percent pay reduction (his base salary is $625,000), with other executives losing 10 percent of their pay and remaining Erlanger leaders losing 5 percent.

In a follow up email sent Monday, Jackson stated that Erlanger Medical Group physicians and advanced practice providers will be taking a 5 percent reduction in base pay. Advanced Practice providers include outpatient doctors, nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants.

Hospital systems across the country are struggling during the COVID19 crisis. The CEO  HCA Healthcare, which operates Angel Medical Center, the Highlands-Cashiers Hospital and all of Mission Health Systems announced last week that he will donate the next two months of salary to a fund to help system workers struggling with reduced hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The senior leadership team of the system also will take a 30 percent cut in pay for the duration of the pandemic, CEO Sam Hazen announced in a letter to employees last week.

HCA Healthcare, which has 184 hospitals, has had to reduce hours for employees.

“Many of our outpatient facilities, clinics and departments have closed,” Hazen wrote.

Any employee that can’t be redeployed can be eligible for a pandemic pay program that continues paying 70 percent of their base salary for up to seven weeks.

“This is not a furlough,” Hazen said. “Instead, it is a pay continuation program to assist colleagues until we better understand the long-term implications of this pandemic on the organization.”

Hospitals have lost valuable funds due to the fact that elective procedures have been discontinued which generates a large portion of their revenues. Elective procedures have been discontinued for two main reasons, one to keep staff free in the event of a surge of COVID19 patients and also to save personal protective equipment (PPE) that are in short supply and high demand.

Hazen added that the patient volume declines are likely temporary and that “we hope we can return to taking care of more patients sometime in May, which should lead to scheduling work for you.”

The HCA Healthcare Hope Fund helps with financial needs and also has counseling services. The HCA Healthcare Hope Fund is a public 501(c)3 charity that’s employee-run and employee-supported “to help HCA Healthcare employees and their immediate families who are affected by financial hardship.”

The Board of Directors decided to waive “their cash compensation for the remainder of the year allowing the company to make an additional contribution to the HCA Hope Fund.”