Sonora Regional considers staff cuts

By Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat July 19, 2012 04:28 am

Sonora Regional Medical Center is looking at a 4 percent reduction in its workforce, but how that will be achieved is still not known.

In a July 6 letter to employees and physicians obtained by The Union Democrat, Sonora Regional President Jeff Eller stated that the organization has seen a “sharp decline” in its inpatient volumes so far this year. Admissions are down 9 percent for the first six months compared to this last year.

The letter also says that reimbursements are down “in key areas” over the same period, reflecting “a quickly changing healthcare landscape.”

Eller states that, despite immediate actions to reduce expenses, Sonora Regional will have to make “long-term” and “sustainable” adjustments. That means reducing staff levels at the hospital by 4 percent, according the letter. 

State labor statistics and the most recent county employment show the hospital employs around 1,000 people. That makes Sonora Regional among the two top private employers in the county, the other being the Tuolumne band of Me Wuk Indians.

“This trend is significant, it is sustained, and it required permanent structural change,” he states in the letter.

Just how the staff reductions will look, however, remains to be seen. Hospital spokeswoman Gail Witzlsteiner said on Thursday afternoon that department managers are preparing reports that will recommend options. But those options — whether they are early retirements, relocating, layoffs or eliminating vacant positions — will take a few weeks to come together.

“At that time, we’ll have a better idea of how that will affect the overall employee group,” Witzlsteiner.

Some employees have already been laid off, although hospital representatives would not say how many.

The letter was released around the time Sonora Regional announced it would purchase the Greenley Road property that previously housed Andy’s Home Center for a hospital expansion. The plans are to relocate the cancer center and other offices to the property, where there will be a medical pavilion.

Though no costs of the purchase were disclosed, the parcels were last assessed on Jan. 1 for a combined $3.17 million.

Witzlsteiner said the money used to purchase the property came out of strategic capital funds from parent company Adventist. No operational money from Sonora Regional was used, she said.

“What we’re trying to do is be proactive with our operations here in Sonora,” Witzlsteiner said.