Prisma Health joins growing list of U.S. hospitals to furlough employees

Updated: Mar. 31, 2020 at 6:49 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Many Prisma Health employees have learned in recent days they have been furloughed.

This decision has raised many questions about why Prisma is reducing its staff in the face of the growing number of COVID-19 patients.

Prisma Health CEO Mark O’Halla said in a letter to employees over the weekend that the furlough will impact mostly non-care positions, but a few people in the community have reached out to WIS saying they know nurses who were furloughed.

That could be because the organization might also furlough some clinical areas where there’s been a significant decline in the volume of patients.

The number of elective cases at Prisma has fallen by over 75% over the last two weeks, O’Halla cited as one reason for the furloughs.

He also said the losses in the financial market have impacted the company’s income, and Prisma is taking on additional costs due to the rising number of COVID-19 patients and the price increases of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) said those who are furloughed in the coming weeks can get financial help through filing for unemployment -- despite the fact that furloughed employees aren’t technically out of a job.

“Individuals that are furloughed are still job-attached employees, meaning they have not been separated from employment,” DEW’s Chief Administrative Officer, Jamie Suber, said. “They will be returning back to work, so benefits like health insurance will still be provided to them. They just will have a lot a reduction or loss of wages.”

O’Halla said in the letter that those furloughed can apply for open positions within the organization or apply for unemployment benefits.

“We have seen a tremendous spike in claims coming out of the health care industry,” Suber said.

DEW said people applying for unemployment benefits should receive benefits in the next seven to 14 days.

“Unemployment is available for those individuals -- $326 being the most as a weekly benefit amount for those individuals who have lost wages for short periods of time,” Suber said.

Prisma Health isn’t the only hospital in the U.S. that has had to make difficult cuts in the face of the rising pandemic.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare in Kentucky, Erlanger Health System in Tennessee, Columbia Memorial Hospital in Oregon, and Mercyhealth in Illinois are just a few of the 10 hospitals nationwide that have had to furlough employees in recent weeks.

O’Halla said in the letter he doesn’t know how long the furloughs will last, but that in order to take care of patients today and in the future, they had no choice but to take this difficult measure.

DEW said unemployment claims can range from a minimum of $40 to $326 weekly and that furloughed employees can receive these benefits for up to 20 weeks.

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