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Hospital system furloughs 500 workers amid financial strain

Appalachian Regional Healthcare announced the layoffs Friday.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

LEXINGTON, Ky. — LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — One of largest hospital systems in eastern Kentucky will furlough about 500 staff members because of sharp revenue decreases amid the new coronavirus outbreak, officials said.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare announced the layoffs Friday, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported. ARH is headquartered in Lexington and operates 13 hospitals in Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.

Human resources Vice President Sonya Bergman said staff will be recalled when a normal volume of patients returns. Other staff members will be reassigned to areas directly involved in the COVID-19 response. It was unclear how long the furlough will last. Officials said employees will have the option to receive health insurance and benefits during the furlough.

Bergman said the system has seen a 30% decrease in revenue as a result of fewer patients coming in for elective services, which were suspended at all hospitals by executive order of Gov. Andy Beshear.

“As health care providers, we are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and need to do everything we can to ensure we have the right clinical resources in place, including staff, supplies and equipment, to prepare for a COVID-19 patient surge,” Bergman said.

Other Kentucky hospitals have taken the same approach. St. Claire HealthCare in Morehead announced Thursday that it was furloughing 300 staff members.

Experts have warned that many rural hospitals may struggle to shoulder the burden of limited visitations, the newspaper reported. Nearly half of all rural hospitals operate at a financial loss, according to the National Rural Health Association.

More than 200 Kentuckians have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Beshear said Wednesday that the state is entering a phase of outbreak where case numbers may start doubling every one or two days as community spread accelerates.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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