Why some Minnesota nurses are being laid off or having hours cut during the pandemic

Across the Twin Cities, there are reports of nurses being laid off or having their hours cut amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a counterintuitive concept given the ongoing crisis, but many hospitals are delaying elective procedures, so there are some parts of the hospital that are really quiet right now.

The Minnesota Hospital Association says that means hospitals are losing money, too.

Some nurses told FOX 9 they think these nurses being told to go home should be preparing to respond to coronavirus instead.

“It’s gonna hit the fan here as far as in the next couple weeks where all of our hospitals are gonna be full,” said Mary C. Turner, the president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.  

“There should be no idle hands right now,” she said.

As hospitals across the state get ready for the incoming surge of patients, they’re having to re-evaluate staff in other areas.

Both M Health Fairview and HealthParnters say they’re cutting hours for employees in some areas. A nurse says they’re in negotiations with Children’s over cuts right now.

Allina Health says their workforce changes will be rolled out tomorrow and layoffs and cut hours are already happening at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth.

“This is where my frustration comes in,” Turner says. “They shouldn’t be sitting at home. They should be in our education-type settings.”

Turner says, before Minnesota sees the full surge, nurses who were working in other areas of the hospital should be getting training on how to respond to COVID-19.

“We need to be using this time to re-train all of our nurses,” she added.

Wednesday, state officials said there are options out there for nurses as many health care occupations are hiring right now.

Turner says time spent switching to a new job or taking a health care job outside the hospital is too valuable to be wasted, however.

“We need every single one of us,” she said.

Hospitals told FOX 9 these cuts are just temporary until all areas of the hospitals are up and running again.

However, state officials say they are going to have to find and train more nurses in order to staff the ICU beds it is adding across the state.

The Minnesota Hospital Association released the following statement Wednesday: 

Hospitals have stopped elective procedures to conserve personal protective equipment, and this preparedness is consuming a huge amount of resources financially. As a result, that has idled some of our service lines and unfortunately impacts some of our employees. But it was the right thing to do in order to prepare to care for patients and to protect our staff who will be caring for patients.

HealthPartners released the following statement Wednesday: 

As we take steps to adjust our care practices to prepare and help slow the spread of COVID-19, some colleagues have experienced changes to their work. This applies to nurses, as well as other administrative functions. These changes could look like reduced hours, temporary movement to another department, or the use of time-off or other leave practices. We have not done any layoffs at this time.

M Health Fairview  President and CEO James Hereford released the following statement Wednesday: 

M Health Fairview informed employees Tuesday that it expects to reduce hours for some staff beginning April 6 and continuing through May 3.  M Health Fairview will provide impacted employees a minimum of 50% pay and continuation of employer contributions for existing benefits, regardless of hours worked during this time.  These changes will not affect staff on the front lines of caring for COVID-19 patients. 

These changes were driven by a decreased patient census, a result of the indefinite postponement of non-critical procedures and a broad transition to virtual care. Both of these steps were taken recently to prepare M Health Fairview for the expected surge of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks. Decreased patient census coincides with the need to increase spending significantly on new equipment and supplies related to COVID-19.

Many hospitals expect near-term revenue declines of as much as one-third as a result of the current crisis. As a non-profit hospital system, M Health Fairview operates on extremely tight margins— 0.2% in Fiscal Year 2018. The pre-existing financial pressure, coupled with unexpected costs of preparing for a COVID-19 surge, required immediate action to protect financial stability and prevent deeper actions in the weeks and months ahead. 

Employees could be called back or reassigned as needed to address expected surges in COVID-19 patients.   

“We are deeply grateful to all of our employees for the heroic work they are doing during this unprecedented crisis. The changes we’re making now are needed to ensure the long-term health of our system, so it can serve the community throughout this crisis and beyond.