JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hospitals in Northeast Florida are shutting down departments following an executive order from Gov. Ron Desantis to end all elective surgeries.
The order is meant to keep people out of the hospitals and slow the spread of COVID-19, but it’s also had an impact on the workforce at Northeast Florida hospitals.
“We are following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order to postpone all elective, outpatient and non-emergent surgeries. This has led to a decrease in the number of surgeries and therefore a decrease in the number of patients coming to our hospitals,” said a spokesperson for Baptist Health.
Baptist Health and Ascension Florida both confirm they’ve had to reduce and eliminate hours for health care workers in recent weeks.
Baptist Health employs approximately 12,000 team members, 97% of whom are able to continue working during this time, according to figures released by Baptist Health.
Employees at Baptist Health who have had their hours reduced can use paid time off, according to the hospital. If they don’t have paid time off, they will be given an advance of PTO up to 40 hours, but any PTO they accrue afterward will go towards the advance. Meaning they won’t be able to use that time for future vacations or personal leave.
Baptist Health told News4Jax that later in April the hospital system plans to give team members 16 hours of paid time off that will not need to be repaid.
Employees with Baptist Health who have reduced hours may be eligible for re-employment assistance benefits with the state, but Baptist Health doesn’t determine their eligibility. The state website that does determine eligibility wasn’t operational as of Wednesday.
The other option Baptist Health is giving employees is to join the labor pool which re-trains and re-assigns employees for other areas in the health care system. News4Jax asked how many employees have been able to find additional work through the labor pool.
“This number changes daily. Our goal is to maintain employment for all of our team members, which is why we are encouraging those whose jobs have been impacted to join our Labor Pool, which offers opportunities to be trained and reassigned to different areas within the Baptist Health system,” said Baptist Health Communications Executive Director Cindy Hamilton. “We are continuously evaluating all staff availability for current and future needs. We are re-assigning some clinical staff to other settings in care, depending on demand.”
News4Jax asked which departments and specific jobs seeing a reduction in hours. Baptist Health spokesperson said the areas identified by Desantis’ executive order are not operational.
Similarly, Ascension St. Vincent’s said it’s working to re-assign employees who had their hours cut because of a decrease in volume at the hospital.
Ascension Florida released a statement saying, in part, "Associates unable to work solely due to decreased volumes or similar work-related circumstances beyond their control are still being compensated and receiving all associated benefits, and we are working to identify potential opportunities for them to continue to actively serve our organization in other capacities wherever possible. We continue to assess this on a case-by-case basis.”
Ascension said it is also evaluating employees who are temporarily unable to work because of possible or confirmed exposure to COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re doing everything we can to assist associates who are temporarily unable to work due to possible or confirmed exposure to COVID-19, following guidelines from the CDC and the Florida Department of Health. These associates are evaluated based on their individual situations and are handled on a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances. We are providing pay continuation for associates who are quarantined due to workplace exposure and addressing through worker’s compensation as appropriate,” said Ascension Florida in a statement to News4Jax.
A spokesperson for Ascension Florida said employees who are unable to work still have benefits associated with their employment.
Janie Thomas with Amidon Nurse Staffing is helping to hire nurses for the state testing site in Jacksonville on TIAA Bank Field. Thomas said a lot of the nurses the staffing agency is hiring have been laid off or furloughed.
“Surgical centers, doctors’ offices, even hospitals are shutting down surgical floors because they don’t have patients. So, the nurses are getting laid off. So, they are coming out here to help,” said Thomas. “They want to be right on the front lines.”
The Executive Director of the Florida Nursing Association said she’s not sure yet how many hospitals are experiencing a reduction in hours, but said she’s heard from nurses who are being moved to work in different departments.
“Some people said they were closing their unit, but they are going to work somewhere else,” said Executive Director Willa Fuller. “There is usually, in a hospital, somewhere else you can fill, and they will re-orient you and retrain you to work somewhere else. I know a little bit of that is happening just from the few I have heard from, but I don’t know wholesale what’s happening across the state with that.”