Fewer inpatient stays contribute to staff cuts at Boone Hospital Center

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 | 6:54 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Boone Hospital Center announced Wednesday that 35 employees will lose their jobs and attributed the move to patient decline caused by the faltering economy.

An additional 80 hospital employees will see their hours cut, but no hospital services will be reduced or eliminated, hospital President Dan Rothery said.

Over half of the jobs cut are management and administrative positions. The rest are related to inpatient services such as housekeeping. Inpatients are those who remain in the hospital overnight. 

Laid-off employees will receive severance packages, and counseling will be available. This round of layoffs comes after the hospital let 48 staff members go in July.

"We are grieving for our employees," Rothery said.

Although the emergency room has seen more patients, he said, overall the hospital is counting between 50 to 70 fewer patients this year than it did to last year. August is usually one of the busiest months for the hospital — but not this year, Rothery said.

"We have to adjust the labor force to the current demand," he said.

Rothery said hospitals nationwide and in mid-Missouri also were experiencing a decrease in patients.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, inpatient stays were on the rise in Boone County until 2006, the latest data available. From 2002 to 2006, the number of patients staying in Boone County hospitals overnight increased more than 16 percent.

Recent inpatient statistics from Columbia Regional Hospital and University Hospital were not available as of Wednesday.

Rothery attributed Boone Hospital Center's decline in patients to those deferring health care because of the recent economic slowdown.

Northern Commissioner Skip Elkin, who serves as the Boone County Commission liaison to the hospital, cited a direct relationship between the decline in patient numbers and the economy.

"People are losing their jobs and losing their health insurance," Elkin said. "Folks are being very selective about when they seek health care."

Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillion said that when the economy slows down, the number of people getting elective surgeries — surgeries that are optional — also tends to fall.

Elkin said he learned of the hospital's decline inpatients at a meeting with hospital Board of Trustees last spring, but he didn't know about the layoffs until they were reported earlier this month.

The decision to cut jobs was made by hospital management, not the board.

The hospital's planned patient tower, funded by $100 million in bonds, is still moving forward. Construction on a new garage also continues.

Rothery said the tower is a long-term investment for the community and is unaffected by the drop in patients, which he said may be temporary.

Laid-off employees will get priority for rehire if patient numbers go up, according to a press release from the hospital.

The hospital employs 1,990 people and is managed by St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare.

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