Sheppard Pratt cutting jobs as its focus shifts

September 03, 1992|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, a storied psychiatric research and treatment facility, has abolished 65 positions, including those of three top administrators, as part of what officials described as a continuing shift to community-based mental health care.

The staff reduction -- the second at the 101-year-old Towson institution in the past year -- amounts to slightly more than 6 percent of the hospital's full-time work force.

Dr. Steven Sharfstein, Sheppard Pratt's chief executive officer and medical director, said yesterday that the cuts were necessitated by the scaling back of hospital benefits by insurance companies, which has resulted in shorter patient stays. In response, he said, Sheppard Pratt is going to concentrate increasingly on community, day and outpatient programs.

"We're reinventing Sheppard Pratt in a real sense. We're becoming more of a health system and less of a hospital. The hospital part of our operation is becoming much less significant," Dr. Sharfstein said.

The hospital will save $4.2 million a year, about 8 percent of its $55 million annual operating budget, he said. Last year, the private, non-profit institution, which receives the bulk of its money from patient fees, had a deficit of $2 million.

Among the positions cut were those of three clinical vice presidents -- administrators who were psychiatrists and supervised the treatment of patients in three areas but did not work directly with them.

They are Dr. Emile Bendit, who headed the hospital's ambulatory programs; Dr. Robert Temple, head of adult inpatient services; and Dr. Richard Sarles, supervisor of the child and adolescent psychiatry programs.

Sheppard Pratt will reorganize in to eight decentralized service areas, including long-term mental illness and community-service programs, Dr. Sharfstein said.

Dr. Bendit, who has been at Sheppard Pratt for 13 years, and Dr. Temple, who has been at the hospital 17 years, said they understood the need for the cutbacks.

"The hospital is going through a difficult time and is making a deliberate effort to reorganize itself. Part of that involves flattening the bureaucracy. I'm not sure I wouldn't have done the same thing," Dr. Bendit said.

Also included in the staff cuts were nine art therapy positions, several clerical, public relations and marketing positions, and 17 housekeeping, food-service and other support workers. The cuts were announced to employees Aug. 21 and acknowledged by the hospital yesterday after a reporter's inquiry.

Last fall, Sheppard Pratt abolished 30 administrative and support jobs.

Dr. Sharfstein said the cutbacks were "catching up to reductions in occupancy" at Sheppard Pratt because of restrictions imposed by health-care providers. The average length of stay at the hospital is 21 days, down from 50 days two years ago. The hospital has 220 beds, down from 322 two years ago, he said.

The hospital treated about 3,000 patients last year, twice as many as it treated two years ago, largely through its expanding day and outpatient programs, he said.

For many patients, he said, outpatient care is "an appropriate way to go." But reduced hospital stays are a "sad story for a number of patients" who need continual care but whose benefits have been exhausted, he said, predicting that the burden for their care will be shifted to public hospitals.

Dr. Sharfstein said the cuts had been difficult for remaining workers.

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