Boone Hospital cuts staff, will close psychiatric unit

Thursday, July 31, 2008 | 6:19 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - Boone Hospital Center laid off 48 employees Wednesday, including the 26 employees who run the inpatient psychiatric unit at the hospital. The unit will not admit patients after Aug. 15, according to a news release from the hospital.

The remaining 22 employees serve mostly in administrative and management functions. However, Kyle Sheafer, director of marketing and public relations, said some of those employees have already been placed in other open positions at Boone Hospital Center. There will be no more staff cuts, Sheafer added.

Boone Hospital Center is the only Columbia-area hospital that has an inpatient psychiatric unit, and once it closes, patients will be referred to other units nearby, Sheafer said.

In the news release, the weakening economy and pressures on reimbursements were cited as the reasons for the layoffs. A shortage of psychiatrists prompted the choice to close the 12-bed psychiatric unit, Sheafer added.

Sheafer said that the hospital has been struggling with this shortage for many years. When the hospital realized that cuts had to be made and that the psychiatric unit would have to close, it was decided that both should occur at the same time.

The decision to cut staff came from the Boone Hospital Center and not BJC HealthCare, which is the company that leases the hospital from Boone County, Sheafer said.

The hospital is in the midst of an expansion, adding a parking garage and a seven-story bed tower to house more patients. However, Sheafer said the expansion is not the reason for cutting the staff.

"We firmly believe that the expansion ... is necessary for the residents of Boone County," Sheafer said. "One of the reasons we're making the difficult decision to displace employees now is so that we can be positioned to continue to grow into the future."

Boone County Treasurer Kay R. Murray said the expansion costs are funded by BJC HealthCare and the hospital's board of trustees. A $100 million bond from hospital revenue has been set aside for construction costs.

The displaced employees were given 30 days' notice, plus a severance package based on years of service at the hospital, Sheafer said.

Boone Hospital Center Board of Trustees Chair Robert McDavid could not be reached, and Vice Charman H.J. Murrell declined to comment on the layoffs.


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