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Detroit Medical Center laying off 60 amid coronavirus; McLaren eyes furloughs

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Detroit Medical Center is laying off more than 60 lab assistants, couriers and patient support staff, according to the president of Teamsters Local 283.

Steve Hicks said the DMC is laying off 27 employees at Children's Hospital who handle patient intake and other duties and 38 lab assistants, couriers and customer service assistants who work throughout the hospital system's Detroit campus.

Hicks said the medical center is blaming the layoffs on a lack of work for these employees. Patients are avoiding hospitals and seeing their doctors with their phones — tele-med — and not at their offices. They're also not having surgeries, or blood work and other lab testing work done.

He said DMC will continue to cover the workers' health insurance, and the layoffs could be temporary.

Nevertheless, he said Friday, "in this time of need, I think it's horrible that they're laying people off. I think it's pretty bad."

He said noted the owner of the DMC, Tenet Health of Dallas, had revenues of $18.5 billion in 2019.

A spokesman for the DMC did not immediately respond to questions about the layoffs.

HIcks said his members who are being laid off are the collateral damage of COVID-19. While hospitals need their doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists and other medical workers, to take care of coronavirus patients, other employees are not in demand. He questioned why his members are not being redeployed instead of laid off.

One DMC courier, who transports lab samples, said he had only made only two runs over a six-hour period Friday.

Stories from the front  

Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Free Press are teaming up to report on Michigan hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. We will be sharing accounts of the challenges doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel face as they work to treat patients and save lives. 

If you work in a Michigan hospital, we would love to hear from you. You can contact Robin Erb rerb@bridgemi.com at Bridge or Kristen Jordan Shamus kshamus@freepress.com at the Free Press.

Part of the Detroit Medical Center campus in midtown Detroit.

"Business has slowed a lot because a lot of doctor's offices aren't open, which is kind of strange because we're in a pandemic," said the courier, who asked that he not be identified to protect his job.

The layoffs are coming as hospitals nationwide grapple with declining revenues as elective surgeries and other operations have been canceled due to the pandemic.

Flint-based McLaren Health Care also is using furloughs and other cost-cutting measures, said  Shela Khan Monroe, vice president of labor and employment relations at McLaren Health Care.   Details aren’t finalized.

"Like all other hospitals and health systems, our regular patient volumes are down significantly as a result of the cancellation of elective procedures and other factors," she said in a statement.

"In response, we have put measures in place such as temporary furloughs and voluntary time off to minimize employee layoffs and reduce expenses until such time that our regular volumes return to pre-COVID levels."

Trinity Health, meanwhile, is  planning to furlough some workers, and to move some full-time employees to part-time to blunt the financial impact of the pandemic, the Free Press and Bridge reported this week.

In a letter to employees obtained by the Free Press, Trinity Health President and CEO Mike Slubowski explained that while the Catholic hospital system will expand its coronavirus surge capacity by increasing staff, beds and ventilators at hospitals, and expanding lab testing and telehealth, it also must cut costs. 

"Many government leaders, and the general public, don't understand this," Slubowski wrote in a letter dated April 1. "They think hospitals are full, and they don't realize that more than half of our revenue comes from outpatient and elective services. While we are providing more telehealth visits, our estimates are that, even with the increase in inpatient volumes anticipated with the COVID-19 surge, we will not generate enough revenue to cover our costs."

Trinity Health operates hospitals in Michigan and 21 other states. 

John Fox, the CEO of Beaumont Health, Michigan’s largest hospital system, told the Washington Post that he is concerned about the financially weakest 25 percent of hospitals failing, "because there’s no way the other hospitals can absorb their COVID patients.”

“If they start going down, that changes the whole algebra for the size of the system to handle the pandemic,” Fox saidadded. He worries that a surge in patients could overwhelm more stable hospitals. “That’s when you’re treating people on the front lawn.”

Under normal conditions, Beaumont health earns about $16 million each month in net operating income. But after postponing elective surgeries, Beaumont is losing about $100 million a month, he told the Post.

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