Cuts looming in hospital's work force Early-retirement plan offered at North Arundel

140 could be eligible

Action follows recent closings of two units

April 21, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

The work force at North Arundel Hospital could be reduced by nearly 10 percent under an early-retirement plan administrators have offered employees at the Glen Burnie hospital, according to longtime employees.

Kevin Murnane, a hospital spokesman, said employees with five or more years of experience who are 55 or older are eligible. He refused to give the number of employees who were sent early-retirement packages April 9. But longtime employees say letters went to about 140 of the 1,700 staff members at the hospital.

Employees accepting the offer must notify the hospital by June 30, and their last day of work would be between July 1 and Aug. 1, Mr. Murnane said.

The early-retirement offer is among a number of changes at the hospital.

Monday, a 27-bed cancer unit on Floor 4B was closed, the second time in as many months that the hospital has closed a unit. In February, it shut a 27-bed surgical unit on Floor 4C. About 60 nurses and assistants who worked on the two floors were reassigned, hospital officials said.

Mr. Murnane said many employees -- primarily nurses and others involved in patient care -- will have to reapply for their jobs next month. Some job classifications will be changed or eliminated.

The changes at North Arundel are indicative of problems facing hospitals across the country as health care costs rise and managed-care groups press for faster patient discharges, local and national health care industry officials said.

"The way health care is being delivered is changing dramatically," said Nancy Fiedler, spokeswoman for the Maryland Hospital Association.

North Arundel officials said the units they closed had few patients. From January to March 1995, the cancer unit averaged 138 patients a month. During the same period this year, the number fell to 109, according to a hospital newsletter.

The number of admissions was typical, but patients were not staying as long, hospital officials said. The average stay has dropped from six days to five days over the past several months.

Employees said they knew a few months ago that changes were coming because hospital administrators have been talking with them about redesigning operations as part of the hospital's "Innovations" program.

"But nobody had any idea it would be this drastic. Nobody," said a nurse who has worked there 20 years. "We didn't expect we were going to have to start over from day one and reapply for our jobs. That's not redesigning," said the nurse, who has taken a temporary leave of absence.

All employees interviewed for this article requested anonymity for fear of repercussions.

"Everybody is so scared right now. I just don't know," said another nurse who has worked at the hospital for about 20 years. "It's like people are afraid to trust their best friend who's been on the job with them for 17 years. Everybody's just walking around on eggshells."

Hospital officials said the changes are necessary.

Last month, the Health Services Cost Review Commission, which regulates hospitals in Maryland, listed North Arundel as the seventh-most-expensive hospital to operate among 50 in the state.

North Arundel's costs were 4.92 percent higher than the state average, close to the 5 percent threshold that would have brought sanctions from the commission.

The average cost of an admission, or stay, at North Arundel is $4,806, said Mr. Murnane, the hospital spokesman.

"We need to be more competitive in the marketplace. If we can lower some of our costs, we'll be more attractive" to health maintenance organizations, he said.

Employees have speculated that some of the changes stem from North Arundel's discussions with Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis about a possible merger. Mr. Murnane would say only that "they're still discussing different details, and right now there are still some issues to be resolved."

Among the job classifications North Arundel plans to eliminate are nursing assistants and escorts. The hospital plans to use unlicensed health care workers, called patient care technicians and assistants, to perform such tasks as changing dressings and running errands for nurses.

Under the current system, nurses might leave the floor to take a specimen to the laboratory or a patient to another floor, Mr. Murnane said.

The change means nurses will stay on the floor and that "patients will receive better care and have someone always in the room or in the next room," he said.

More private rooms will be created, he said.

Employees said they fear that new job classifications will mean lower pay and more work.

"What this all boils down to is cost," said a nurse with 20 years of experience who worked in one of the units that closed.

She echoed employees who said they keep hearing about more changes but can't get straight answers from hospital administrators.

"It just seems like they're trying to keep everything under wraps, like we're this perfect little community hospital and everything is fine and dandy. But we're not. They say they want us all to feel like family. But you don't treat family like this," the nurse said.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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