Hospital lays off 21, jobs outsourced

Grays Harbor Community Hospital laid off all 21 people in its billing department Friday afternoon and said it would outsource the work to a Utah-based company.

The workers found out about the layoffs at 2 p.m. Friday and because of the sensitive nature of the billing information and patient records they handle, they were walked out of the building immediately, hospital spokeswoman Nancee Long said. “It was a very emotional and draining experience. We have great compassion for those affected.”

A news release said the move is essentially cost neutral, but Long said it will mean an important improvement in cash flow.

“The advantage is that patient billing will be processed more efficiently and accurately,” she said. “… There is constant scrutiny from this community (saying) that our billing has been inaccurate. They have had issues with that. This is going to solve those problems.”

The workers are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 21. John Warring, a longtime union leader at the hospital, posted this statement on Facebook.

“We believe taking money from Grays Harbor taxpayers and exporting it out of our community is bad public policy and represents a failure of management to develop the process and training to allow our employees to succeed.

“We believe exporting jobs and the money they spend in our local economy exacerbates our chronically high unemployment and puts increase stress on local businesses dependent on thier purchases. Many of these employees have loyally worked at GHCH for over a decade and find this devastating. “

The hospital’s news release said economic pressures on rural hospitals have made outsourcing common in the industry. “We are sorry to lose these colleagues, but know this move is in the best interest of our patients,” hospital CEO Tom Jensen said in a news release.

“Hospital billing is a vital part of the financial success of an organization,” Jensen said. “We find ourselves at the point where we need to bring in a more specialized service to effectively attend to our patient’s billing concerns.”

The release said that because of confidentiality issues, the sensitive nature of this transition and federal standards, the employees will be paid for the next nine weeks and will receive severances based on years of service.

Union officials were notified more than a week ago, but couldn’t say anything to workers. They bargained for terms of the separation.

The hospital called the decision difficult and said it was made after months of analysis.

Long said the hospital has spent extra money on training to try to add more efficiency in the department.

“This is in answer to people getting multiple bills and incorrect bills. The hospital invested more than $120,000 in the education and training of the business office. We have tried to encourage that department to increase their skills and unfortunately that didn’t happen.”

Jensen probably telegraphed the possibility of a change last month when he said the hospital has some underperforming departments and the 2018 budget was dependent on improvements in those departments immediately.

Eric Timmons, a nuclear medical technician and one of the UFCW shop stewards, said it was no surprise to billing workers that management wasn’t happy with their performance.

“I think there has still is a failure on management’s side in giving them adequate training and resources to be effective at their job,” Timmons said. “We have an old billing system and our billers are challenged by the environment the hospital has created for them.”

Timmons said the layoffs have a predictable effect. “The mood is somber. A lot of employees are angry and frustrated. It seems like it’s death by a thousand cuts. It seems like every month it’s another department.”

About two months ago, seven workers who do the medical coding to prepare the charges that are then turned into bills by the billing department were laid off. That work was also outsourced.

Long said the subcontractor, AVEC Health Solutions, will open an office on Grays Harbor and some of the laid-off workers may have an opportunity to work there. She said AVEC plans to have five employees stationed at the hospital.

The hospital said all billing concerns can still be addressed at either campus, bills can be paid at either campus, and calls to the billing office will be answered in a timely manner.