LANCASTER – The Antelope Valley Hospital CEO and executive management team on Friday talked about the state of the hospital’s finances and jobs with about 250 employees and members of the community.
Hospital CEO Dennis M. Knox told employees and staff at an informational session at the hospital’s community resource center that layoffs are done and bargaining will continue with unions.
“As far as our efforts for this, it’s done,” Knox said. “Now the bargaining is going on, and we have to defer to the SEIU and the CNA. But at the end of the day, the initial move is done.”
Knox also said that the hospital administrators could have either announced all of the recent layoffs at one time or systematically spread the layoffs out over a longer period. “I did not want that anxiety of spreading it out,” he said. “So we intently focused on getting it done, getting on with operations, and moving on.”
The hospital CEO said the recent move to initiate layoffs was in response to the health care facility “being looked at by Housing and Urban Development on how we’re going to rightsize the hospital and prepare for the future.”
According to Knox, the hospital is currently applying to HUD to refinance its $130 million debt; so to appear as a credible organization that qualifies for the federal department’s refinancing program, the hospital must “rightsize” its full-time equivalent (FTE) staff.
“Because of the FTE creep and the additional staff that was at Antelope Valley Hospital, we had to look at ways, of very concerning and drastic ways to rightsize the hospital, to make sure we were staffing appropriately the appropriate number of hours for quality patient care,” Knox explained. “And we also did take the step of a lot of hospital staffs throughout the country. A lot of hospitals are doing hiring freezes. A lot of hospitals are stopping capital projects – we do not stop capital projects. … So we’re doing things that we believe are going to take out what we need to take out – in other words, we quantified up to $6 million in salary and benefits, and we looked at areas we believe are not affecting directly patient care … And some of these things are due to technology becoming available, and admittingly supplanting FTEs.”
Knox told the attendees that the hospital first offered involuntary separations and early retirement packages as a means of saving the hospital $6 million per year. However, administrators only received 20 applications, which failed to reach the $6 million mark.
“So we had to go work with our bargaining groups, CNA and SEIU, and we followed the collective bargaining agreements that have been negotiated to the letter of the law,” he said. “That’s where we are now. We had sessions this week with the CNA, we had sessions with the SEIU just yesterday, working and bargaining with them to bring closure to the needed restructuring.”
One comment from participants asked Knox how these proposed solutions were really a fix to the hospital’s financial dilemma and not just window dressing, saying, “There seems like there is a gaffe with your management team with not managing their budget properly.”
But Knox defended the management team, saying they are now equipped to manage their budgets in their respective areas – unlike previous years.
“We gave them a budget this year. In previous years there wasn’t a budget,” he said. “Our leadership is a thankless position because they get it from us (the management team) and they get it from down below, but we are training them to make them the best they can be so that this doesn’t happen again.”
Another forum participant wondered if there was anything that employees could do to prevent the layoffs announced.
“Is there anything that we can do collectively, such as volunteer to take a couple of hours off every week or something like [flexible work weeks or flex leave] with no pay to help preserve some of our co-workers, or something to make sure we won’t have any more layoffs?” asked an employee who worked in the Radiology Department.
In response, Knox said he appreciated that sentiment, while AV Hospital Chief Operating Officer Jack Burke, RN, replied, “When we met with SEIU, there was that suggestion on the table to be considered under the negotiations.”
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