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Avera to Furlough 1500 staff members


Avera Health has furloughed approximately 650 employees across its system and reduced hours for about 1,500 staff members as the financial and operational implications of COVID-19 take hold.

Empty patient rooms, minimally used clinics and the elimination of elective procedures mean lower volumes and less need for staff at the moment.

While large demand is expected when the COVID-19 surge of patients occurs, many functions of Avera have been reduced by half or more, including clinic visits and outpatient surgeries, the health system said in a statement.

This is causing day-to-day losses that the organization balanced by expense reductions, Avera said, while noting that at the same time, it is preparing for the predicted surge of COVID-19 patients that is now expected in May and June.

“Health care organizations across the United States, including Avera, are seeing unprecedented and serious financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said in the statement.

“At this time, Avera is focusing all its attention on preparing for and getting through the surge. Avera teams are carefully considering how clinical and non-clinical employees who are furloughed can be reassigned.”

Top leaders of the organization are sharing in this financial impact by taking pay reductions, Avera said. Physicians also are participating.

“Our mission calls us to be good stewards of all our resources during this pandemic, protect our employees’ jobs for the long term and remain a strong resource for the community now and in the future,” said Bob Sutton, president and CEO of Avera Health. “We want to treat our employees with dignity and respect during this incredibly challenging time.”

Avera previously had announced employee assurances, including stability payments and assistance with health insurance premiums. Those are still being provided.

“We wanted our employees to have the stability offered by these measures in addition to state and federal unemployment benefits they may be eligible for,” Sutton said.

“This is not a decision we wanted to make or one we take lightly. We had to take immediate action to ensure we can sustain our clinical operations during the surge and after the surge ends. We will continually be evaluating our finances and workforce needs and hope to call employees back as soon as our volumes support it.”

Avera has approximately 19,000 employees across a five-state region. Employees could be reassigned to support the anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients. While furloughed, staff members can apply for state unemployment benefits but can continue to receive health insurance coverage from Avera and accrue paid time off.