MED Reduces Some Employee Hours

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

The Regional Medical Center at Memphis is reducing the hours of employees who work in transportation, telemetry and its call center to meet its 2013 budget goals.

Angie Herron Golding, the director of communications and marketing for The MED, said staffing levels are determined by department and the reduced hours are the result of areas “significantly over budget.” No positions will be eliminated and there has not been any reduction of hours or staff as an overall organization, she said. The MED declined to provide an estimate of how many workers will be impacted by the cuts.

Chad Johnson, executive director of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 1733, the local chapter of the union that represents workers in the transportation and telemetry departments, said the union is also carefully monitoring a possible move to 12-hour shifts for housekeeping staff.

“Cutting the hours of housekeeping at a public hospital could be disastrous,” he said. “I think you get more bang for your buck when you reduce the salary of someone who is making six figures than workers who are making $20,000 to $25,000 a year.”

The MED is considering a move to staffing plans for housekeeping that could better adjust with volume changes, Herron Golding said. The MED has not made a decision on whether to move to 12-hour shifts, which is common in health care settings.

While these cuts are driven by internal budget goals at The MED and not a decline in any county, state or federal funding, there is concern in that the hospital system could be hard hit by Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision not to immediately participate in the federal Medicaid expansion program. Haslam joins 18 other Republican governors who also have rejected the expansion.

Without the expansion, the hospital system could lose payments it receives for its high volume of uncompensated care, without any additional Medicaid revenue. The MED had net allowances of $119.2 million in uncollectible accounts for the 12-month period ended June 30, 2012, compared to net allowances of $88.5 million in uncollectible accounts for the same period a year earlier, according to the hospital system’s 2012 and 2011 audited financial statements.

The Tennessee Hospital Association released a statement that said, “Tennessee hospitals are disappointed Governor Haslam could not get the information he needs from CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to move forward with coverage of the expansion population.”

The association said it supports the governor’s decision to ask CMS to allow him to buy private insurance through the health insurance exchange for those who would be eligible under the expansion. It’s still not clear if President Barack Obama’s administration will permit states who have requested this option, including Arkansas and Ohio, to use federal Medicaid expansion funds to pay the premiums of private insurance for low-income residents.

In a separate study not related to the Medicaid decision, The Tennessee Hospital Association previously released a study that showed the $5.6 billion in Medicare cuts to Tennessee hospitals already in place could have a $13.3 billion economic impact to Tennessee’s communities as the cuts are phased in over the next decade.

The THA estimates the state could lose more than 90,000 jobs over the next decade, and that reduction would result in Tennessee unemployment returning to the level that it was at the peak of the recent recession in June 2009.

In Shelby County, the study projected hospitals would lose $520.7 million in federal funding over the next five years, and $1.4 billion over a 10-year period.