By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – Cookeville Regional Medical Center (CRMC) has temporarily reduced staffing in response to a decrease in patient volume from the COVID-19 situation. Approximately 400 of the medical center’s 2,400 employees will be furloughed, and several hundred will see a temporary reduction in hours. The changes were effective immediately.
As a direct response to COVID-19, the government has passed several mandates that have affected hospitals regarding procedures and patient volume.
“Over the past couple of weeks, our volumes here at Cookeville Regional Medical Center have dropped by about 50%, with many of our other outpatient departments dropping by more than that. Some have basically closed completely,” said CRMC CEO Paul Korth.
Korth explained that this is a furlough or layoff of individuals in non-clinical areas, and emphasized, “We are not affecting any departments where we are taking care of patients with COVID-19 disease.
“Many of those departments that do just basically outpatient testing and procedures are extremely affected by these recent mandates.”
Some of the areas affected include the outpatient diagnostic imaging center, outpatient rehabilitation center, cardiac rehab and the sleep center.
The outpatient lab will continue to operate as usual. There will also be no noticeable change in testing or lab work for the Emergency Department and inpatient services.
“All of our testing that we do for those patients that come through the emergency room, those patients that have to be admitted…we are still doing some of those procedures that are really required to still be done because they are urgent type procedures,” Korth said. “Those will still be done. It will just be a change.
“We’re still doing around 25-30 images a day on the outpatient basis, but those are urgent, medically necessary. Instead of going to the outpatient center, those individuals will be coming to the hospital and go through our x-ray and imaging department here at the hospital.”
Before COVID-19, CRMC was doing over 200 images a day, and now it is experiencing an 85% decrease in volume. The hospital has also gone from 30 surgeries a day to between five and eight, a 73% decrease.
“It’s a drastic cutback,” said Korth.
A drastic increase in the cost of supplies, including masks and gowns, is also putting a financial strain on the hospital.
The hospital’s supplies are limited. They have around a two-month supply, but according to Korth, things are getting very stressful in trying to procure the things they need for the long haul.
“We’re paying three to five times the price that we were paying a month ago for the equipment that we have to use, such as caps and gowns…if we can even get it,” Korth shared. “We must do this in order to continue to provide the services we are going to have to do during this pandemic.”
The hospital is also looking at grant funding recently announced by both the state and federal governments.
“We are looking for every grant we can apply for, every stimulus dollar that we can apply for,” said Korth. “We are actively doing that and trying to get as much cash in from those kinds of subsidies to continue to operate. I’m fearful that the number (financial) is going to be drastic.”
Hospital officials do not yet have enough data to know the real financial impact this disease has had on the facility.
In addition to staffing cuts, capital projects are being looked at on an individual basis. Most of the capital projects that are either in the pipeline or getting approved will have to be delayed a few months.
“The nurse call system approved by the board in March will probably be delayed two to three months until the hospital’s leadership can get a handle on how much cash and revenue they will have to pay for it,” said Korth.
The hospital can be ramped back up quickly after government restrictions are lifted.
“We can definitely have the staff back in place almost overnight because these people aren’t being terminated,” said Korth. “They’re still staying in our system. We’re still keeping them on our benefit plans, our health insurance plans. It can be ramped back up very, very quickly.
“We’ve already been in touch with some of our medical staff, especially on elective surgeries that have been delayed and postponed,” Korth explained. “We’re working on a plan right now that when we get the green light to go ahead and start having people back in and around the facility, we’ll be able to ramp that up very quickly.”
Employees were notified of the furloughs by memo Monday at 1 p.m. Human resources began meeting with employees Monday afternoon and have further employee meetings scheduled throughout the day on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Employees that will be furloughed will be able to receive state and federal unemployment benefits,” added Korth. “CRMC will pay 100% of their medical benefits during his time. Our human resource department will be contacting and working with each of those individuals independently.
“We do not expect this to be long-term. We’re all in this together, and as a community and nation, we must all do what we need to do stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Korth couldn’t say enough about his employees and their dedication to their patients.
“Individuals are making a tremendous sacrifice, making a sacrifice on the front lines to go out into the parking lot to get these patients that we know are testing positive,” said Korth. “For our nursing staff and our physician staff and those providers here at the medical center to jump in and do that, I can’t thank everybody enough, from everybody throughout the building for what they are doing. These are very trying times, and our staff is doing a very, very great job with that.”