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Hospital to announce layoffs next week

Executive says Sacred Heart $7 million behind plan

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center will announce layoffs next week as the hospital copes with a slumping economy.

Fewer people are having elective surgeries – a lucrative business for health care providers – and the numbers of patients without insurance or unable to pay their medical bills has risen while the overall number of patients has dropped.

Elaine Couture, chief executive of Sacred Heart and Holy Family Hospital, said the hospital has to trim costs and cut some services and programs this fall.

Couture declined to say how many employees of Spokane’s largest private employer would be laid off. She said the hospital has left many job openings dark and will attempt to reconfigure employee schedules and duties to minimize job losses. Providence executives will scrutinize spending and costs at Holy Family this autumn.

Sacred Heart has asked each department to identify 5 percent in savings as part of the planning.

Although the hospital has posted disappointing financial results, Sacred Heart is not losing money.

Couture said the hospital was $7 million behind budget plan at the end of August. The budget called for a 3.6 percent profit margin for 2010. Instead the hospital is on pace for a 2.8 percent margin.

The Washington State Nurses Association called the cuts worrisome.

“Inadequate nurse staffing has been an ongoing concern and nurses are already often working without meal and rest breaks,” said Anne Tan Piazza, a WSNA spokeswoman. Nurses have contract language regarding layoffs.

Couture said the hospital must cut costs at a time when people continue to lose jobs, drop health insurance and turn to hospitals for free care.

Sacred Heart had planned to spend about 4.92 percent of its budget this year on charity care – a term used to describe the expected write-offs of caring for the poor.

Instead, the cost of providing such care is consuming 6.78 percent of its budget, or $6.9 million more than anticipated.

Sacred Heart, Couture said, will not budge from its mission statement that requires care for the region’s poor and vulnerable.

“I just want to make certain (people) know that we are focused on the highest level of care in Spokane,” she said. “We are here to help everybody.”