Pandemic costs force job cuts at WhidbeyHealth

— Created April 7, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

More than 40 positions will be eliminated at WhidbeyHealth as a result of lost revenue brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement released by WhidbeyHealth last week and published in the last issue of Whidbey Weekly, CEO Ron Telles said unexpected costs of the pandemic totaled more than $3 million, while temporary lockdowns and closures have cost the organization more than $12 million. The health system has been able to sustain medical services and operations, but the heavy financial losses mean the board has had to consider all options to remain financially healthy.

“We are striving to strengthen WhidbeyHealth’s financial position so that we are more resilient in these and future extraordinary times,” Telles said in the press release. “Unfortunately, we have faced the difficult decision to reduce our workforce in some areas, which I can assure you was not taken lightly.”

A total of 41 staff positions will be cut. Of those, 11 positions were vacated by ordinary attrition and will not be filled and 15 staff members volunteered to leave WhidbeyHealth for a variety of personal reasons, explained Conor O’Brien, marketing and communications manager for Whidbey Health.

“We focused first on non-clinical and overhead positions,” he said. “One example is the concierge program we created to help the community acclimate to new screening procedures when entering our facilities. Today, temperature checks are familiar to nearly everyone.”

Another avenue being pursued to help the bottom line is negotiating with insurance companies to increase reimbursement rates and accelerate payment for services while reducing the number of denials for patient benefits.

Tricare, which provides healthcare coverage for a majority of active duty and retired military personnel, was singled out (although not by name) in Telles’ statement, saying it represents the lowest rate of reimbursement among insurers. While it is unknown exactly how many WhidbeyHealth patients are served by Tricare, O’Brien said patients are not in danger of losing any services.

“Tricare represents approximately 10 percent of our revenue for patient services, the fourth largest source of insurance payments,” he said. “Increasing Tricare rates and benefits will go a long way to helping WhidbeyHealth meet our financial goals.

“Active duty and retired service members are important to our community and we remain committed to caring for them,” O’Brien continued. “We have no plans to end our agreements with Tricare, however we are advocating for rate increases for patients covered by Tricare programs.”

Another possible way to increase revenues, according to the release, is to concentrate on offering specialty services that are covered by insurance, such as joint replacement.

“We are expanding services to meet the changing need of our population. Joint replacement surgeries are a good example of a treatment that delivers outstanding outcomes for patients whose lives are often severely limited by painful arthritic joint disease,” explained O’Brien.

These changes, O’Brien was quick to point out, will in no way keep Whidbey residents from getting the care they need.

“It is our mission to help everyone who needs healthcare,” he said. “In no way will WhidbeyHealth prohibit access to needed services based on insurance or ability to pay.”

O’Brien also wants to reassure Island residents WhidbeyHealth is NOT in danger of disappearing.

“WhidbeyHealth is not going to collapse,” he said. “We were on track to see an operating surplus of 2.3 percent in 2020, all of which was obliterated by the pandemic. It is important for everyone to understand that improving revenue is essential to WhidbeyHealth’s long-term financial resiliency. One of the biggest efforts underway is to improve insurance payments for our patients. Rates must be improved, denials of claims must be reduced and timely payments are crucial to cash flow.”

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