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Layoffs Hit Western Massachusetts Hospital

A hospital in Western Massachusetts is making employee layoffs as other health care providers in the region are trying to find solutions to challenges in recruiting and retaining physicians.

The Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield this week informed the Massachusetts Nurses Association union that the hospital will cut up to 9 positions among its medical-surgical nursing staff. It will also redesign up to 4 other various positions to accommodate the changes in personnel.

Baystate Franklin President Charles Gijanto said that the changes are largely the result of shorter lengths of patient stays, which he attributed to improving medicine, technology, and increased coordination between other health care agencies to return patients to in-home care as a result of changing state and federal healthcare guidelines. From 2012 to 2013 the average stay per patient dropped from 3.4 to 2.4 days. Gijanto said the increase in empty beds is a common theme in smaller community hospitals.

"When you look at the overall number of admissions and you look at that drop in lenghts of stay it's freed up beds," said Gijanto. "And what we don't have is new volume to fill the beds."

For the past 21 months, the hospital has been in disputes over contract negotiations with union employees with the Massachusetts Nurses Association , including impasses over  wages and overtime pay. The hospital and employees have been operating on an expired contract for the past year-and-a-half. Gijanto said that  the layoffs are not a result of labor conflicts.

"Even if we had a contract right now our volumes would still be the same and we still would have had the same issue with empty beds, and we still would have had to do the layoffs," said Gijanto.

Gijanto also noted that the hospital will work within 18 days to hopefully reduce the number of layoffs.

"We have some other openings within the hospital and are trying to offer the union an early-retirement program with the hopes that maybe some of the more senior nurses, if they were interested in that and took the early retirement, there would be fewer nurses that would have to be laid off," said Gijanto.

A representative from the Massachusetts Nurses Association was not available in time for broadcast, but the Springfield Republican recently reported that Linda Judd, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Nurses Association bargaining unit at the hospital wrote the hospitals’ inability to retain physicians and surgeons “ has resulted in Franklin County patients being forced to travel to Springfield for routine services and procedures that should be provided right here in our own community hospital.”

Gijanto acknowledged the difficulty in retaining surgical staff and said that Baystate Franklin is undergoing changes to aide in its recruitment and retention efforts.

"We are in the process of designing new operating rooms that we can build at Franklin with the hopes that newer, more contemporary, modern spaces with the new technology would be more attractive to surgeons as we go forward to try and re-bolster the surgical side of the equation," said Gijanto.

Northern Berkshire Healthcare is another example of a regional community health care provider changing operations to meet the community need for surgical care at a time when doctors are becoming scarce. A recently-announced collaboration between North Adams Regional Hospital and the Pittsfield-based Berkshire Surgical Associates will bring two additional surgeons to the hospital which until recently had only one resident general surgeon.

Northern Berkshire Healthcare President Tim Jones said, "to meet the needs of the community we felt like that we need to create a partnership to support those demands."

Recent reporting also says that the North Country Hospital in Newport City, Vermont has made cuts to 19 positions, about 3 percent of its workforce, to save $1.3 million dollars as a result of a $1.6 loss in its operating budget of $80 million.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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