Healthcare Industry in Montana Shed Jobs Amid Covid-19

Multiple hospitals in Montana have announced pay cuts, furloughs, and other cost-saving measures as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to recent reports.

Hospitals across the country, including those in Montana, reduced operations to prepare for an increased load of coronavirus cases. In some areas, increases in preparation caused those cases to never materialize. Hospitals are now cutting costs to offset their losses.

“Everything that we did right to prepare our state for a surge pays off in the fact that we have lower mortality than many other states, we have lower hospitalizations,” says Rich Rasmussen, CEO of the Montana Hospital Association. “But the costs for doing that certainly will be borne out by the hospitals for this period and for some time to come.”

Lost Revenue to Montana Hospitals

Based on government data, the healthcare industry is the largest employing industry for Montana, with over 67,000 employees in 2014.

The Montana Hospital Association is comprised of 88 hospitals and other facilities across the state. It is working on compiling financial data to fully understand the pandemic’s economic impact on its members. So far, a conservative estimate is that the association’s members lost 100 million dollars during the first three weeks of the pandemic.

“It’s easy to think when you have a lot of sick people, there’s going to be a lot of use of health care,” said Bryce Ward, an economist at the University of Montana and co-founder of ABMJ Consulting. But the combination of canceled elective procedures and people avoiding doctors’ offices is having “a real depressive effect.”

To prepare for the predicted increase in patients and shortages of PPE, many doctors closed offices or reduced operations. Hospitals canceled elective procedures for the same reasons. These are the challenges that the CEO and medical director are facing.

The cuts were needed to offset budget shortfalls. Kalispell Regional Medical Center in Flathead County was projected to lose $16 million per month because of the cancelation of procedures. Their CEO Craig Lambrecht issued furloughs, pay cuts, and a reduction in hours for some employees. All employees that were furloughed will keep their health insurance through August.

Ability of Hospitals To Recover These Losses

No one knows how long the pandemic will last. However, hospitals remain optimistic about the options for recovery. Ward foresees a quick recovery once it finally passes. “I would expect that most of health care will snap back quickly, as long as people aren’t afraid to go to the doctor,” Ward said.

Kalispell Regional CEO expresses the same optimism on the industry bouncing back. “I am confident that we will ramp back up quickly once it is safe to do so,” Lambrecht said. “It is my hope that everyone can weather this uncertain time and emerge safe and well.”

Other Challenges Facing Healthcare Workers

Ergonomic challenges and issues with fatigue are nothing new for healthcare workers. Medical professions require lots of awkward positions involving bending and twisting. These workers also work long shifts that require they stand for the majority of it. Nurses for example are 4 times as likely to develop MSD compared to other workers.

The pandemic is exacerbating these issues.

Workers in the field are dealing with even more stress than usual. COVID protocols do not allow visitors, so healthcare workers have stepped in to keep families informed about their loved ones. Workers in hospitals are using devices such as iPads and FaceTime or Google Chat to allow patients to see their families. 

Looking Ahead

Until COVID cases are under control, hospitals will continue to operate on a limited basis. However, there is optimism that the industry will bounce back once the pandemic is contained and a vaccine is available. Furloughed workers are anticipated to return to their jobs, and operating revenue should return. Healthcare systems need to strive for ways to address stress and fatigue issues faced by their workers, especially under these types of conditions.