Preparing for a viral storm

Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Samaritan Medical Center informed employees Wednesday that it will furlough 10 percent of its staff beginning this week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city’s largest employer, which has about 2,400 employees according to Jefferson County Economic Development data, expects that the furloughs will last about three months, Samaritan President and CEO Thomas H. Carman said in a letter to employees.

Mr. Carman said that since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Samaritan’s patient volumes have decreased by 40 percent due in part to the cancelation of elective or non-emergency procedures. He said that initial projections show that the hospital lost $2 million in March, an amount expected to increase to $8 million in April.

He said that in the coming days, the hospital’s leadership will be identifying work that can be delayed or deferred until the hospital’s finances improve and will determine where employees are not temporarily needed.

“We anticipate all departments will be impacted,” Mr. Carman told employees. “However, these furloughs will not have an impact on patient care, nor will they impede our COVID-19 response plan should more cases arise locally.”

All furloughed employees will retain their jobs and seniority and will be able to collect state unemployment insurance, as well as enhanced unemployment benefits offered through the recently enacted federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which provides unemployed workers with $600 per week in addition to state benefits. Furloughed employees will also retain their health benefits for up to three months and contribution payments toward health insurance premiums can be deferred.

Mr. Carman said the hospital’s leadership will initially be asking for volunteers to accept furloughs for specific job titles in specific areas of Samaritan’s healthcare system. If no volunteers come forward, seniority will be used to determine who is furloughed, with the least senior employees furloughed first.

“We anticipate bringing all staff back to full capacity as quickly as we can to maintain the strength of our healthcare system,” Mr. Carman said in his letter. “This is not a long-term plan and this is not a layoff. We anticipate bringing back all staff when we can stabilize our operations.”

He said if there is a surge of COVID-19 cases in the area, some job titles may be called back to work as needed.

A hospital spokeswoman said that no further details would be shared with the public until Samaritan had the chance to identify and speak with each impacted employee.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(1) comment

Not much of an emergency if you can lay off ten percent of your staff. Prior planning, prevents (oh heck, there was no prior planning, just State Mandates.)

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