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A Major Hospital In Topeka Is Cutting Salaries To Get Through COVID-19

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Celia Llopis-Jepsen
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Kansas News Service
Stormont Vail Health is reducing pay for many employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Are you an employee of Stormont Vail or another Kansas health care providers that is reducing pay during the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you.

TOPEKA, Kansas — A major hospital in the state’s capital slashed pay this week for many employees to try to weather financial woes spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Stormont Vail Health will shield the salaries of health workers doing “face-to-face” patient care in the hospital’s acute care and ambulatory settings.

But starting April 5, everyone else gets a cut to their base pay, ranging from 10% to 50%. Stormont Vail hasn’t said how many people that affects, but the hospital has 5,300 employees.

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Credit Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service
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Kansas News Service
Robert Kenagy, CEO of Stormont Vail Health, will take a 35% pay cut.

“It is our obligation to ensure that the health system remains financially viable and able to serve our community,” CEO and physician Robert Kenagy told reporters on Wednesday. “Our revenues have been cut significantly … perhaps as much as half.”

Across Kansas, hospitals have tapered off non-emergency surgeries and visits — what Kenagy called “engines” of financial health for his hospital. Research from Harvard University suggests such dramatic measures are needed to save protective gear and free up beds for an anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients.

The hospital will review the cuts every 30 days, but it expects the pandemic to last for months.

“Everyone across the health system is lined up to perform during this crisis,” Kenagy said, “and we believe that when we’ve called for sacrifice, we’ve done our best to spread that and share that sacrifice equitably.”

“Before this crisis hit, the organization was performing very well financially,” he said. “We were hitting all of our budgetary targets — actually exceeding them.”

Kenagy is taking a 35% pay cut. Other executives and high-level directors are taking cuts ranging from 15% to 25%.

Kenagy said doctors and advanced practice clinicians fall in a category separate from other health workers. He could not elaborate on how their salaries will work beyond saying they would lose pay “comparable” to the rest of the organization’s workforce.

Other staff working from home or on-site, but not face-to-face with patients, will lose 10% of their paychecks. Pay will drop 50% for employees who do not have work assigned to them currently, but the hospital will not allow anyone’s pay to drop below $12.45 per hour.

A labor pool could allow some people without current assignments to get access to work on a rotating basis. Employees can also use paid time off and sick leave.

The hospital has put off unnecessary spending, such as construction costs, but has made some unexpected investments, including to quickly ramp up telemedicine and serve patients remotely when possible.

Stormont Vail scrambled in recent weeks to create a dedicated respiratory illness intake center at one of its clinics and to add negative-pressure air systems to patient rooms at the hospital to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It had 31 such rooms prior to the outbreak but will have 63 after finishing renovations in about another week.

The hospital hoped to have in-house COVID-19 testing by this week, but a vendor pushed back delivery of the necessary equipment a few more weeks. Stormont Vail is relying on private labs in the meantime, with a typical wait time of two days for test results.

Meanwhile, a local financial institution donated more than 1,000 N-95 masks to the hospital, shoring up its supply of protective gear for health workers.

“N-95 masks are a precious commodity right now,” Kenagy said. “Every health system across the country is doing everything they can to get their hands on those.”

As of Wednesday, Stormont Vail had six in-patients with COVID-19.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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