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Eastern Niagara Hospital furloughs 60 workers indefinitely

Lockport-based Eastern Niagara Hospital announced Thursday that 60 of its 484 employees have been furloughed, effective immediately, although the furloughs do not include workers in its inpatient or intensive care units or the emergency department.

The hospital blamed revenue losses stemming from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's order halting all elective surgeries and non-critical outpatient procedures, which cut off a substantial share of hospital revenues.

Eastern Niagara, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection five months ago, is the first Western New York hospital to announce furloughs, but President and CEO Anne E. McCaffrey said it may not be the last.

"I'm sure there are a lot of other hospitals evaluating their situations," she said in an interview. "I wouldn't be surprised if down the road, a lot of them come to the same conclusion."

Cuomo issued his order against elective procedures to clear the way for hospitals to deal with a surge of Covid-19 patients. In Lockport, that has not occurred.

"When the governor first issued the order to stop elective surgeries and any non-critical outpatient services, the thought at that time was that we would be redeploying those staff from those areas to meet an overwhelming surge of Covid patients on our inpatient floors," McCaffrey said.

"For the last few weeks we’ve had those employees not working to their full capacity, many of them not working at all, expecting there would be a need elsewhere in the hospital for them. Currently, we’re not experiencing a surge of Covid-19 patients on our inpatient floors that requires us to redeploy them to those floors," the CEO said.

The Covid-19 caseload has been minimal so far at Eastern Niagara.

“I believe we have one right now. We’ve been in low single digits," McCaffrey said. The hospital has 40 medical-surgical beds and  a five-bed intensive care unit. Typically, about half of them are full on a given day, she said.

“We don’t have a return date (for the employees) right now. It will depend on when the state removes that restriction," McCaffrey said. “Their jobs are intact. They’re retaining their health insurance, their seniority, their benefits. And as soon as we can bring them back to work, we will.”

McCaffrey said she "probably" would have ordered furloughs even if the hospital weren't in Chapter 11.

“We were not running in the red," she said. "Through Chapter 11 we’ve had many initiatives that have been designed to eliminate our previous deficit. We were meeting our bankruptcy initiatives. This was an added challenge because of the significant loss of revenue due to the suspension of elective surgeries.”

Surgery and outpatient services, especially at the hospital's South Transit Road location, are the focus of the furloughs, which affect both union and nonunion positions. There also were cuts in administrative offices.

McCaffrey said more than half of the furloughed employees volunteered for that status, perhaps influenced by the federal $600-a-week jobless benefit during the Covid-19 crisis.

"The federal benefit is such a large add-on to the state benefit that it changes that dynamic," she said.

McCaffrey said no pay cuts have been ordered for any employee still working.

She also said the drive-up Covid-19 screenings offered at the South Transit Road site will continue.



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