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November 5, 2012

Los Banos hospital layoff eliminates 15.5 positions

Michael Rooney is in the precarious position of looking for a job as he approaches 70.

The room-service chef was laid off Oct. 20 and aspires for better than a restaurant job at minimum wage without benefits.

"That's OK if you're 20-something, but I'm 68," said the Los Banos resident.

Memorial Hospital Los Banos cut 15½ full-time equivalent employees in October in a range of positions.

For nearly six years, Rooney prepared meals for patients, primarily new mothers. Some of the other kitchen staff had their hours trimmed before he was laid off, he said.

Rooney said he has a wife and grandson to support and a mortgage. "It really put me in a tough place," he said.

Chief Executive Officer Richard Liszewski said the employees were laid off after a productivity consultant compared the hospital with others nationwide.

"It's not something we take any pleasure in," Liszewski said of the layoffs.

The hospital averaged 11 to 12 patients per day in 2011, he said, a number that had declined steadily from 21 in 2006.

Liszewski said that as co-pays and deductibles rise for the insured, patients will put off procedures that are not immediately life-threatening. The prospect of paying for a procedure to fix a hernia, for example, could prompt a patient to decide to live with the symptoms.

Liszewski said he does not expect the level of service to change, because "we were, if you will, heavy on our allocation of services."

Liszewski said the hospital is working with physicians to offer an array of support, which would increase the daily census numbers. If the hospital could acquire a cardiologist, he said, it could more efficiently treat many of the 23,000 who walk into the emergency room.

The hospital has 260 employees, not including physicians. Katie Kidder, manager of marketing and communications, said cuts were made across the board in areas including dining and nutrition services, physical therapy, medical and surgical assistance, central supply, environmental services, maintenance operations and the Rural Health Clinic.

Kidder said some salaried employees were offered a choice of an hourly position or a severance package, and the rest were given a severance. Some employees, Kidder said, were placed at the top of the list for positions at other Sutter Health affiliates, of which the closest are in Tracy and Modesto.

Kidder said the hospital plans to hire 3.45 full-time equivalent employees for different positions in the Rural Health Clinic.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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