UC hospital plans layoffs

February 9, 2009 5:17:37 PM PST
The University of Chicago Medical Center is cutting 450 jobs in an effort to shave $100 million off its operational costs.The layoffs could result in longer waits for patients in the emergency room as well as reduction in available hospital beds.

On Monday, four hundred and fifty employees were informed that they no longer have a job. Their positions were eliminated as part of a restructuring at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Although officials say the cutbacks will not affect patient care or the time patients spend with physicians, they admit you may have to wait longer to see a doctor.

The cuts come as the hospital's CEO says the facility finds itself in the midst of a tough final time and must eliminate some 450 non-medical positions.

"One thing we can do is to react to this pro-actively while we're strong," said Dr. James Madara, CEO, University of Chicago Medical Center.

The hospital cuts include 30 in-patient beds in general medicine and intensive care, closing two doctors' offices in the next few weeks, and reducing surgical service between Saturday afternoon and Tuesday, which could all translate to longer wait times in the emergency room.

"Physicians will in part be redeployed as we work with our physicians to decide what connections and affiliations to make," said Madara.

Over the next year and a half, more staff positions at the hospital in food service, clerical, medical records and transporters will simply go away through attrition. That comes as the medical center reorganized and planned to cut $100 million in spending as well as cut 15 senior manager positions including the vice president of external and community affairs, a position once held by First Lady Michelle Obama.

With the economic downturn and the updaid bills to the hospital from Medicaid, the officials say the layoffs were inevitable.

But the union representing 1,900 health workers at the medical center dispute that.

"The University of Chicago Medical Center has in no way justified the kind of cuts they're talking about. They've been very profitable for the last several years. Nothing that they have shown us has led us to believe they don't continue to be profitable," said Richard Berg, Healthcare Employees Union Local 743.

Experts say the trend of financial hardships for hospitals is a sign of the times. In the last six months, both Lincoln Park Hospital and Michael Reese have closed.

Dan Yonker of the Metropolitan Chicago Health Care Council says despite the industry cutbacks he hopes he doesn't see a change in patient care.

"There is not a hospital administrator that wants to close. Their hospitals are a staple in their communities and they're making tough decisions today, again, with that patient in mind," said Yunker.

Hospital officials added they remain committed to assisting those in the community, even those that are uninsured. They say they will assist them through the emergency room but will try to get them with a primary care information at a neighborhood clinic.

A hiring freeze at the medical school is expected and some of the construction projects will begin to scale back on as well. Hospital officials will reassess in the next two years and there may have to be more layoffs then.