Yesterday, news broke that Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital was laying off an additional 127 positions. This follows the 33 positions that were recently eliminated by Albany’s only hospital. In a press release, Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick said the following:
“Like other hospitals and health systems throughout the United States, Phoebe is facing a tidal wave of economic change,” said Joel Wernick, president and CEO, citing local economies, state Medicaid policies, cutbacks in reimbursements, Sequestration, and uncertainties related to the Affordable Care Act. “We’re dealing with an economy and a change in the healthcare industry over which we have limited control.”
Wernick said re-engineering and reorganization actions impact Phoebe’s entire network of facilities, clinics and services. “The strength in our organization has been in our people, the Phoebe Family. We are going through a period of enormous adjustment. One of my greatest disappointments is we were not able to achieve the reduction needed in our labor force through normal attrition.”
This isn’t the first time that Phoebe employees felt the brunt of a governmental decision. Once upon a time, I was a Phoebe employee. I watched my own hours, and the hours of many of my coworkers get cut when the Georgia General Assembly passed cuts to Medicaid.
Despite an effort by Phoebe to encourage employees to press the legislature to pass a tobacco tax to fund Medicaid, the cuts went through and many of us saw our hours cut. Of course, this was also around the same time that Phoebe purchased the old Albany Middle School building. Needless to say, many of us were less than pleased.
Rumors have circulated about another building purchase in Phoebe’s future. In an email to the Journal, Rick Smith, Corporate Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Phoebe said he knew nothing of this but would check up and get with us later today. We will give him the benefit of the doubt at this point and not talk about the rumors at this time for obvious reasons.
However, if these rumors do turn out to be accurate (and admittedly, we know how rumors usually aren’t), then Phoebe and Wernick have some serious explaining to do.
As it stands, plenty of people are already demanding some explanations. After all, this is the same hospital that recently purchased their competition (let’s not pretend that the Hospital Authority is anything other than Phoebe’s rubber stamp). This is the same hospital that has purchased buildings all over town, including the former Ordinary Coyote that is still standing vacant.
Phoebe has spent money left and right over the past decade, and now they have to cut costs to the tune of 160 people in total? This rubs people wrong in an area where they feel that our local hospital has more in common with a leviathan than with St. Elsewhere. It may be just the way things have shaken out, but Phoebe owes the people of Albany more in the way of an explanation than a simple press release that simply maintains that the layoffs are happening and how sorry Joel Wernick is about the situation.
For those who are now out of work, that sorrow won’t put food on the table. That’s not to say that anyone is owed a job. That’s not how the world works, nor how it should work. However, Phoebe owes it to the people of Albany and Southwest Georgia to make solid decisions since they have worked to become our only option for healthcare. People need to understand why 160 of their friends and neighbors are not going to have a paycheck going forward.