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Wellmont announces second round of layoffs; 40 more workers lose jobs

Sharon Hayes • Apr 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Another 40 employees at Wellmont Health System will lose their jobs this week, and other employees will be reassigned as the ailing health system continues to take steps to improve operational efficiency.

On Wednesday, Wellmont President and CEO Mike Snow said the realignment of employees substantially completes the health system’s reorganization.

“Nothing like this is painless,” Snow said in a meeting with reporters. “It’s hard decisions that affect people’s lives.”

In January, Wellmont announced a series of cost-cutting measures, including elimination of 86 jobs and a reduction in corporate and administrative expenses. Another 60 positions that were vacant at the time were not filled.

Even nursing positions are being impacted, when just a few years ago nurses were in high demand and short supply.

But today, Snow said there is no nursing shortage.

“For the first time in my career, we do not have and Wellmont Health System does not have a nursing shortage. We have fewer openings across the system,” Snow said.

He said some nurses who wanted to work only part time in the past are now being displaced by those wanting to work full time.

Meanwhile, schools are graduating more nurses today, while hospitals are cutting back on their staffs, including nursing positions.

In some departments at Wellmont, patient/nurse ratios have increased from 3 to 1, to 4 to 1, meaning a nurse who cared for three patients not so long ago is having to care for four today.

“This is about benchmarking where we are,” said Snow. “If we keep doing things the way we’ve always done, it’s not sustainable. That’s why we have to take these actions.”

Snow said Wellmont will continue to look at ways to curb costs. Employee pay cuts and salary freezes have been considered, but no decisions have been made.

“Everything is on the table,” Snow said.

Wellmont employs about 7,000 people systemwide. The employees impacted by this week’s cuts will receive severance benefits.

Snow said he wants to maintain a “level of transparency” through the process. He’s been holding face-to-face, town-hall-type meetings with employees, speaking with them directly about the challenges that Wellmont faces and the actions necessary to improve the bottom line.

“You know, you’ve been doing things a certain way, and then the world changes,” Snow said.

“This is a difficult environment. And these are difficult things we have to do.”

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