To prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients and follow state and federal guidelines, metro area hospitals and clinics postponed or canceled scheduled patient visits and non-emergency procedures for several weeks.

That surge hasn’t materialized – thankfully – and might not, but regardless the moves left hospitals with a financial strain.

Thus far, some hospitals in Eastern Jackson County have not had to take steps as drastic as Children’s Mercy Hospital, which this week announced 575 employee furloughs for up to 60 days, following previous moves such as eliminating more than 200 vacant positions.

Many executives have taken pay cuts, with funds sometimes going into an employee aid fund. In many cases, employees have been reassigned to other units or deployed elsewhere in hospitals.

"We are fortunate that we have not had to make any cuts or furloughs at this time," said Leslie Carto spokesperson for Truman Medical Centers, the area’s safety net hospitals with campuses at Lakewood and at Hospital Hill near downtown Kansas City.

While COVID-19 patients represent a fraction of those treated at TMC, with still much unknown the hospital must stay prepared to treat many more.

"Staffing is an issue that all medical centers are facing," she said

At TMC, Carto explained, about 100 employees each day report to a labor pool for necessary tasks different from their pre-COVID roles, such as screening patients at entrance points, inventory control for protective equipment, sanitizing the facility and transporting supplies.

Likewise, HCA Midwest, which includes Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, has not used furloughs or layoffs.

With the "pandemic pay continuation program," employees with reduced hours or from a closed clinic have been redeployed to a high-volume area if possible, and if not they’re still paid at 70 percent of base pay for up to seven weeks. Executive pay donations have gone to the HCA Hope Fund, the company’s charity for employees facing sudden financial loss, illness or injury.

"There’s no question that his health crisis is unique and unlike anything we have ever faced," HCA Midwest spokesperson Chris Hamele said.

Recently, Hamele said, Centerpoint started to transfer some COVID-19 positive patients to Research Medical Center to best use the facility’s critical care expertise, intensive care capacity and in-house testing capabilities. It also allows the hospitals to conserve vital personal protective equipment and better manage a potential overflow of COVID-possible patients who are under observation.

At St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs, some have worked fewer hours or taken paid time off to ward off cuts, and some have taken COVID-specific tasks such as screening at entrances. As of now, there have been no layoffs or furloughs, spokesperson Alex Colley said, and the hospital currently has no COVID-19 patients and has had up to five.

"All these (precautionary) measures in place have been working," she said.

In addition, all St. Mary’s group clinics remain open. Earlier this month a small surgical associates office in Blue Springs for Pinnacle Health closed.

"We are not aware of any independent surgical groups that do procedures at St. Mary’s closing – or expected to close," Colley said, adding that many elective, non-urgent surgeries become urgent at some point, and the hospital is prepared to handle those and any sudden emergencies in addition to COVID patients.

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