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Valley Health announces plan to keep staff affected by COVID-19 closures working

A wave of ambulances at Page Memorial Hospital
A wave of ambulances at Page Memorial Hospital(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 21, 2020 at 10:04 AM EDT
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One local hospital system says they'll be able to pay more employees affected by COVID-19 with a paycheck protection plan.

According to an announcement from Valley Health issued on Tuesday morning, their Board of Trustees has endorsed a plan that commits up to $50 million of reserve funds to keep all of the regional not-for-profit health system’s impacted employees at a minimum of 70% of their base pay for the next 90 days.

Even as the system has worked to treat COVID-19 patients and protect their community, they say their leaders acknowledged the difficulty of keeping up payroll for the workforce as many services have been suspended to focus efforts on COVID-19.

“We are experiencing a profound ‘perfect storm’ of factors which are significantly impacting our community’s use of our healthcare services,” said Mark H. Merrill, Valley Health President and CEO. “There is also uncertainty about the predicted volume and timing of ‘peak’ COVID-19 cases, which makes it difficult to predict when infection risks will decline in our community and services may safely resume. We are taking steps to continue to serve our community now, through the pandemic and beyond.”

In response, the system has announced their Paycheck Protection Plan, which they say will include a number of workforce and compensation changes for more than 6,000 caregivers, and will commit reserve funds to retain and pay staff for at least the next 90 days.

Valley Health says they've committed to maintain at least 70% of the base pay for all full-time and part-time employees who have seen work hour reductions.

The medical system, like others, embraced social distancing to reduce personal interaction across all sites of care, postponing elective surgeries in line with Gov. Northam's executive order, as well as suspending non-urgent outpatient visits and outpatient diagnostic testing at its six hospitals.

Their wellness and fitness centers and outpatient rehabilitation sites have closed, inpatient and outpatient volumes across the system have dropped dramatically, and Valley Health physician practices also report a high number of cancellations and patient no-shows.

They say they have worked to boost telemedicine services and virtual patient care, but patient visits remain significantly below pre-coronavirus levels as many people avoid medical care altogether right now.

“Valley Health’s employee-caregivers are our single most important asset,” said Joseph F. Silek, Chair of the Valley Health System Board of Trustees; “accordingly, the top priority of the board and the management team is to assure they are retained to the fullest extent possible during this especially challenging time.”

The strategies Valley Health is deploying through their new plan include: a system-wide hiring freeze for non-essential positions, reduced hours for certain non-essential staff, required use of paid time off, adjustments in employee compensation including postponing annual merit pay increases, and deferring all non-essential capital spending.

In addition to those steps, the Valley Health Board of Trustees has authorized up to an additional $50 million to supplement employee pay over the next 90 days. The goals, they say, are to minimize the impact on employees and enable the organization to retain staff until normal operations can resume.

“We are taking these steps to ensure that Valley Health remains a financially strong organization, and more importantly, to ensure that we are well-positioned to fulfill our mission to provide safe, quality care to our friends, neighbors and loved ones, today and into the future,” Merrill said. “At a time when many local businesses are laying off employees or closing, hundreds of health systems nationally are furloughing large portions of their workforce, and record numbers of Americans are filing for unemployment, Valley Health is committed to standing by our employees and community, and minimizing the impact of this pandemic.”

“We are cautiously optimistic that these short-term measures will keep Valley Health in a strong position, so we can quickly and efficiently ramp back up to capacity when this crisis ends,” Merrill continued. “Our thoughts are with all of those affected by this pandemic as we remain steadfast in our commitment to serving our community by improving health.”

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