St. Bernards Healthcare of Jonesboro said Tuesday that it has closed some facilities, cut salaries and furloughed some workers as patient volume at its hospitals and clinics decline amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A hospital spokesman said about 50 employees have been put on furlough. He said the moves affect St. Bernards' entire system, and that its human resources division would help workers "receive every benefit possible."
In a statement, President and CEO Chris Barber said St. Bernards has temporarily implemented pay reductions for management, reduced hours for workers and put some on furlough.
Barber said St. Bernards is "no different" than other Arkansas health care providers navigating "this challenging environment," which has seen businesses adding protections for their workers at additional expense while "suffering the loss of revenue from routine sales and services."
"To fully comply with all state and federal mandates and guidelines, we have presently ceased elective procedures and surgeries while also closing several facilities," Barber said. "Furthermore, our patient volume at St. Bernards Medical Center and our outlying clinics have experienced an understandable, yet substantial, decline. Specifically, our health system overall has seen declines ranging from 35 to 70 percent. Finally, we have additional COVID-19 demands to best equip our healthcare workers for a potential surge."
A spokesman said furloughed workers, while not being paid, would be still be listed as current employees. That would allow them to continue to receive certain employer benefits, such as health insurance, "as long as they maintain their typical employee-share of the premium."
St. Bernards has more than 4,200 employees systemwide, including 2,700 at its St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, a 438-bed acute care hospital that serves as a regional referral center for 23 counties in northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri. It's the only Level III Trauma Center in the region, and it houses the only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the eastern part of Arkansas.
The system has temporarily closed three facilities. St. Bernards Health & Wellness, a fitness facility, was affected by Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order closing gyms and fitness centers to slow the spread of the virus. The other two are urgent care clinics on the north and south sides of the city, on East Johnson Avenue (at Hilltop) and Parker Road, respectively. Those operations were consolidated with its largest urgent care facility, located by the Arkansas State University campus off Red Wolf Boulevard, a spokesman said.
St. Bernards is the latest health care provider to announce expense cuts and furloughs as COVID-19 has driven away demand for elective and other non-emergency procedures. CHI St. Vincent said Friday that it would cut expenses, including through furloughs. Other making similar moves include Baptist Health, North Arkansas Regional Medical Center and Arkansas Heart Hospital.
Several hospital administrators told Arkansas Business last week that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the survival of the state's rural hospitals. A report published by consulting firm Guidehouse LLP of Washington said 18 of 34 rural hospitals in Arkansas are at "high risk of closing."
"Rural hospitals and their communities are facing a crisis that can't be ignored, one that could significantly worsen with a pandemic like COVID-19 or any downturn in the economy," Guidehouse said in its 2020 Rural Hospital Sustainability Index, which mined publicly available financial information from hospitals' fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
The report didn't specify the hospitals in Arkansas that are in danger of closing.