Local hospitals adjust pay for employees working less during COVID-19 pandemic to avoid layoffs

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — One would think job security is strong among healthcare workers right now with doctors and nurses needed more than ever on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.

But the truth is those who work outside the ICU or emergency room settings are facing pay cuts due to a decrease in surgeries and outpatient volume, which has resulted in reduced hours and case loads.

A nurse who works at one of the St. David’s HealthCare hospitals, who is not on the front lines working with COVID-19 patients, told KXAN her specialty unit is only seeing about nine patients a week. Prior to COVID-19 her team would see nine to 12 patients a day.

She was one of several concerned healthcare employees from St. David’s who reached out to KXAN, and said her hours have been reduced and her regular pay will be cut by 30%.

St. David’s HealthCare responded to KXAN’s request for information with a statement explaining a plan designed to protect all employees, which is a new “pandemic pay continuation” policy.

Employees are still getting their full pay for the hours they work. For those whose hours have been cut, St. David’s HealthCare has agreed to continue paying them 70% of their full salary.

“This pandemic is unique, and our colleagues’ concerns are real,” David Huffstutler, president and chief executive officer of St. David’s HealthCare, said in the statement. “We want them to know that we care like family, and we stand with them.”

The statement reads in part:

For colleagues with reduced hours who work in clinical facilities or support areas, St. David’s HealthCare will attempt to redeploy them so that they can keep working. Those who cannot be redeployed will receive 70 percent of base pay for up to seven weeks until the hospital system better understands the long-term implications of this pandemic on the organization. These efforts are being made to help St. David’s HealthCare avoid the layoffs and furloughs that other healthcare systems are experiencing.

St. David’s HealthCare also announced its corporate teams will experience pay cuts over the next two months, including Huffstutler, who is taking a 30% cut in pay until the pandemic passes.

Furloughs part of Ascension Texas pandemic plan

Ascension Texas, which is the health system behind Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin and Dell Seton Medical Center, is making similar changes to avoid layoffs.

In an email to 160,000 employees, Ascension President and CEO Joseph R. Impicciche said the health system will protect their pay if they’re temporarily assigned to different jobs or unable to work for reasons linked to COVID-19.

Impicciche said the protection will come in the form of furlough pay, pay continuation, paid time off advance, worker’s compensation and short-term disability.

“We are blessed to be able to make this commitment and appreciate the tremendous work and flexibility of our associates, leaders and physicians in providing compassionate, personalized care,” Impicciche wrote in the email. “I am proud to witness the way all associates have come together to address the challenges of today, just like we have throughout our history.” 

Ascension is also using its Ministry and Mission Fund to help associates who face financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and established a separate financial hardship program to support employees. Starting this week, staff can seek assistance through these programs for themselves and their families.

Ascension said several members of the executive leadership team have already pledged a portion of their salary as a donation to the fund.

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