Deaconess to reduce children’s care services

Deaconess Medical Center said Wednesday it’s laying off 56 employees and closing several of its children’s care services as it attempts to improve its financial condition.

The hospital, along with sister operation Valley Hospital and Medical Center, will shift its pediatric intensive care, pediatric oncology and pediatric surgery patients to Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

Jeff Nelson, interim CEO at Deaconess, said in a press release that the agreement strengthens both hospitals and would be best for patients and families. On average, the pediatrics unit at Deaconess cares for four to 10 patients each day.

“What’s happening here is that we have a brand-new beautiful children’s hospital … it just makes sense to combine services,” said Steve Becker, a spokesman for Inland Northwest Health Services, a nonprofit organization that serves both hospitals. “This is really a sincere effort to do what’s best for the community,” he said.

Becker was speaking on behalf of Deaconess, which recently changed public relations specialists and has had many management changes, including the hiring of Nelson in the fall as a turnaround specialist.

Deaconess will retain some children’s health services, focusing on newborn care, its well-known neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric emergency care, outpatient surgical care and short-term acute care. Also, Deaconess will keep its cystic fibrosis treatment program.

The hospital declined to arrange an interview with a pediatrics manager.

The 56 laid-off employees include registered nurses. They were given a 21-day layoff notice.

The changes began Wednesday and should be finished by Feb. 4.

Job prospects for those employees were uncertain.

Peggy Mangiaracina, executive director of the Children’s Hospital, said she expects Sacred Heart’s staff can easily absorb the light patient load. Children’s Hospital has an average of about 70 patients at a time, though that number fluctuates greatly.

The hospital has 154 beds and about 50 doctors have medical privileges to provide care there. It was expanded and remodeled several years ago at a cost of $40 million.

Though Sacred Heart is having its own financial problems and layoffs, Mangiaracina said managers are always keeping an eye open for good employees.

Hospitals in the region have been beset by an unexpectedly steep climb in patients who are unable to pay their bills. Many are charity cases that the hospitals expected to write off. But the hospitals have said in the past that many are simply bad debts exacerbated by the loss of regional jobs with medical benefits, plus a growing number of patients who can’t afford rapidly rising health insurance premiums.

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