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Hospitals Struggle With Economic Woes

July 9, 2008

By Bart Mills, The Lima News, Ohio

Jul. 9–LIMA — At a time when layoffs are almost daily news, nobody seems immune to the trend, maybe not even the county’s largest employer.

St. Rita’s officials have been plagued by rumors of layoffs in recent years. In the past, officials have refused to comment on the possibility. Hospital officials have scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. today, but will not say what they will be announcing.

Those rumors of layoffs at St. Rita’s Medical Center have circulated among hospital employees and the community for months. But in recent weeks those rumors have become more prevalent. Hospital officials refuse to comment on possible layoffs, but hospitals across the state are experiencing the same economic troubles as other businesses.

“Certainly, hospitals are not immune from the current economic problems and in fact might be impacted more than other industries,” said Tiffany Himmelreich, manager of media and public relations for the Ohio Hospital Association.

As the economy worsens, more patients find themselves unable to pay their medical bills. Other lose work, meaning they lose their insurance, too.

“As they lose jobs they also lose health coverage. More and more people are then seeking care for free,” Himmelreich said.

Himmelreich said those losses — coupled with millions in losses in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements — are resulting in some layoffs around the state.

“I wouldn’t say there are mass layoffs across the board. I have heard of other hospitals in areas across the state having to do this. Certainly, hospitals value their staffs and resort to layoffs only when absolutely necessary,” Himmelreich said.

At Lima Memorial Health System, staffing is evaluated on a daily basis, but the tough economy has not led to layoffs for the 1,600-person staff, said Human Resources Director Tillie Schiffler.

“Health care volumes are flat nationwide. We’re not immune to that. We do evaluate staffing every day because we’re driven by that volume,” Schiffler said.

The hospital’s employment numbers are watched more closely than most area businesses, largely because of a promise made four years ago. In 2003, St. Rita’s officials asked Lima voters for permission to close High Street to accommodate a $130 million expansion of the hospital. At the time, officials projected the addition of 500 jobs.

Since that time, employees and community members have questioned whether those projections were legitimate. In August, St. Rita’ s President Jim Reber answered a letter published in The Lima News claiming the hospital had not kept that promise. Reber noted the hospital had hit that goal and more.

“In 2003, projections of 500 new jobs by St. Rita’s Medical Center were presented to elected officials and the community. Since then, St. Rita’s has grown and added 512 new jobs, including 278 nursing positions,” Reber wrote. “When attrition is considered, SRMC hired 1,925 individuals during the same period. We repeat: There has been a net gain of 512 new jobs already.”

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