Sinai Hospital is planning to slash about 200 jobs from its work force in the coming weeks to compensate for a decline in the number of patients filling its beds, hospital officials said yesterday.
The staff reductions will cut across all sectors, including nurses, nursing assistants, secretaries, maintenance workers, dietary aides, physicians and managers, according to Leonard Marcus, vice president for employee relations.
However, Mr. Marcus said it is likely that a large portion of the staff reductions will be accomplished by means other than layoffs. For instance, he said the hospital will decide not to fill certain positions that are now vacant, along with other jobs that become vacant in coming weeks through normal attrition.
He declined yesterday to estimate how many people will be laid off, explaining that officials are still trying to figure out the least painful ways to meet the overall staff reduction -- about 8 percent of its total full-time work force of 2,600.
"I'd rather not speculate," he said. "No matter what goes out, it's going to alarm people unnecessarily. This is being done slowly and carefully because we want to preserve high quality of patient care."
Sinai's cutbacks may be among the most severe reactions to economic pressures facing hospitals, but may not be the last, said Richard Wade, a spokesman for the Maryland Hospital Association.
"There's going to be a lot of pressure on hospitals across state to do a better job containing costs," he said.
Notices detailing the layoffs at Sinai probably go out to employees by early next week, he said. Laid-off employees will either receive two weeks' notice or they will lose their jobs immediately but receive a paycheck that equals two weeks' pay, he said.
The staff reductions -- the first at Sinai since 1985 -- are being made because of a decline in the hospital's occupancy rate of about 10 percent over the last year. This year, about 70 percent of its 482 beds are filled, he said, compared with roughly 80 percent a year ago.
"The need for a larger work force is down," he said. "By making the cuts, we'll avoid financial difficulties by the end of the year."
He attributed the slumping occupancy rate to several factors. For one, more people are putting off non-emergency medical procedures as the economy slows.
Also, under the state's hospital rate system, institutions fare better if they admit more patients but keep them for shorter periods of time. Sinai has achieved only half that goal. It reduced the average time a patient spends in the hospital from eight to seven days during the last year, but failed to attract more patients to fill the resulting empty beds.
Sinai finished the fiscal year that ended June 30 with a $930,000 surplus. But that wouldn't have happened without an $8 million contribution from Associated Jewish Charities, which more than offset an operating loss exceeding $7 million.
The hospital has incurred an operating loss in each of the last three years.
As the loss grew from $4.3 million in 1988 to $7.8 million in 1990, the charitable contribution has grown accordingly -- netting black ink each year.
"If we were to exist purely on operations," said Mr. Marcus, "we'd lose money. It's the charitable support support of the Associated Jewish Charities that makes this place work."
Clarice Johnson, a representative for 400 unionized hospital employees, said word of the layoffs "came as quite a shock to us" late last week. With the scope of the layoffs a mystery, she is preparing to circulate a flier tomorrow telling employees what the union leadership knows, "which is very little."
District 1199E of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees represents nursing assistants, secretaries, technicians and food service workers at Sinai.