UC Health Memorial Central Hospital

Gazette File photo. UCHealth Memorial Central Hospital in Colorado Springs (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

Aurora-based hospital giant UCHealth is requiring its full-time salaried employees to use eight days of paid time off during July and August to stem financial losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The nonprofit, which operates 12 hospitals along Colorado's Front Range and three more in Nebraska and Wyoming, told its 24,000 employees last week about the cost-cutting move so they could accumulate enough time off to fulfill the requirement, said Dan Weaver, a UCHealth spokesperson.

The requirement doesn't apply to departments that schedule staff based on patient volumes, which include most clinical operations, he said.

The mandatory vacation requirement comes as other hospital groups in Colorado are taking similar steps to cut costs. Children's Hospital Colorado is requiring its employees who don't treat patients, including management, to use five days of paid time off by July 11 and is suspending paid time-off accruals. The nonprofit also is halting raises and retirement contributions for all employees during the rest of the year, is slowing hiring and is finalizing salary cuts for executives.

"Our financial analysis indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause us to have a 2020 budget shortfall of at least $120 million," Children's said in an email statement. "We have no choice but to significantly reduce budgets across our organization. We have identified nearly $70 million in reductions such as eliminating or reducing capital expenditures, marketing expenses, sponsorships and travel. We are not laying off or furloughing any employees at this time, but we are making cuts to various components of compensation and benefits."

Nationwide, more than 1.4 million health care workers lost jobs in April, from doctor, dental and medical specialty offices to hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Those numbers include 33,520 health care workers in Colorado between mid-March and the end of April, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

UCHealth is losing about $120 million a month as patient volumes in its urgent care clinics, emergency departments and surgery departments have declined during the pandemic, Weaver said. The requirement is designed to avoid more severe cuts such as layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts other health care providers across the nation have imposed as financial losses have mounted, he said.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has really impacted hospitals in a significant way," Weaver said. "We are doing this to reduce expenses, and, thankfully, have not had to impose layoffs, furloughs or salary cuts."

UCHealth employees who don't have enough paid time off will be able to use future time-off accruals to take the 64 hours, and those who want to take additional unpaid time off can with supervisor approval, Weaver said. Part-time employees also will be required to take a proportional amount of time off during July and August, based on their schedule, he said.

UCHealth operates Memorial Hospital Central, Memorial Hospital North and Grandview Hospital, all in Colorado Springs, and Pikes Peak Regional Hospital in Woodland Park, as well as outpatient clinics, urgent care clinics, free-standing emergency rooms and medical practices that together employ 5,400 in the Colorado Springs area.

The UCHealth and Children's actions follows a similar move in April by Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, which operates Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center in Colorado Springs as well as outpatient facilities, clinics and medical practices. About one-third of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services’ hospital staff was forced to stay home last month and use vacation time to maintain pay and benefits, which the nonprofit said helped it avoid layoffs and furloughs.

The Penrose-St. Francis move was triggered by a dramatic decrease in demand for almost anything other than coronavirus care and child births. The hospitals’ emergency rooms were about half as busy as normal, and procedures were being done at 15% of their previous rate — largely due to a statewide ban on elective procedures that ended May 4.

Peak Vista Community Health Centers, which serves low-income patients, made some staffing changes in late March as a result of the pandemic, but didn't provide any details about the changes.

The personnel moves come as all three hospital operators received funding from the latest coronavirus relief package that provided $175 billion to hospitals and health care providers nationwide. Catholic Health Initiatives, which owns Penrose-St. Francis, received $24.4 million; UCHealth received $24.2 million; Children's received $22.1 million and UCHealth Memorial received $10.9 million. In Colorado Springs, Peak Vista received $1.52 million, the Center at Centennial rehabilitation facility received $1.32 million and Retina Consultants of Southern Colorado received $1.11 million.

Contact Wayne Heilman 636-0234

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