Hospital lays off 30, closes floor

Piedmont Medical Center laid off 30 employees over the past week, attributing the cuts to overstaffing in some departments and a drop in business in others.

Layoffs at the hospital, which employs 1,600 people, included unit secretaries, technicians and nurses, said Charlie Miller, the hospital's president and CEO. They affected employees in five departments -- nursing services, pharmacy, health information management, laboratory and administration, he said.

The 288-bed hospital also closed a floor in the Women's Tower -- which serves post-partum patients and women with general medical needs -- because of a drop in admissions, Miller said. The tower's third floor was closed last week and patients were moved to the fourth floor, he said.

Employees affected by the layoffs were notified on Friday or Monday, and the layoffs were effective the same day, Miller said. Employees received severance packages depending on their tenure, he said. The hospital is working with three employees who received layoff notices but who could be placed in other jobs, Miller said.

PMC isn't alone in making such cuts. Across the nation, 53 percent of hospitals have reduced staff as they weather the economic downturn, according to a report issued last month by the American Hospital Association.

The Rock Hill layoffs come as a result of Piedmont's attempt to balance the ratio of its employees to the business demands in departments, Miller said. He said there has been a decline in some departments and an increase in others.

"We're not the auto industry, but we're not immune," Miller said.

Hospitals in Columbia and Charleston have laid off staff in the last two weeks to cut costs, said Jim Head, senior vice president for the S.C. Hospital Association.

Head didn't have figures on the number of hospitals that have cut staff or the number of employees affected. He said a survey is being conducted to see how South Carolina hospitals have been impacted by the economy.

Head said that other budget-saving measures hospitals are taking include reducing or delaying capital purchases and projects, such as expanding or adding new technology, restricting or reducing overtime, freezing staff vacancies or eliminating contract labor, such as traveling nurses.

Nationally, the AHA report found that 29 percent of hospitals are experiencing a moderate decline in patient admissions and 25 percent report a moderate drop in elective procedures.

Miller said economic uncertainty has changed how and when people seek care. Some patients are putting off elective procedures and others are delaying care for existing conditions, which can affect their overall health, he said.

"We always worry about that in health care," Miller said. "If a medical problem becomes more complicated, at the end of the day it becomes more expensive to treat."

Miller said PMC has experienced a decline in both elective procedures and inpatient hospital admissions, but an increase in observation patients -- those who medically don't meet requirements to be considered admitted, but are occupying a hospital bed. Because of the increase in observation patients, the number of patients in the hospital is higher than in previous months.

Hospital departments that have experienced an increase in patient volume include the emergency room, endoscopy, cardiac catheterization laboratory and surgery, Miller said.

Miller said Piedmont is seeing more patients who require care, but who do not have medical insurance, a problem that has affected many hospital budgets nationally.

Across the nation, 31 percent of hospitals report an increase in the amount of uncompensated care they have delivered in the last three months, according to the AHA report.

According to the S.C. Hospital Association, hospitals typically collect less than 10 percent of uninsured balances.

Miller said he hopes the hospital will not have to lay off more employees but stopped short of saying that the hospital won't have to take such measures in the future.

"We are watching our business, just as every other type of business is," Miller said.