Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) announced in a statement March 27 that it is temporarily reducing staffing levels through staff furloughs in a number of departments across its 13-hospital healthcare system in Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia to focus on essential services and the expected COVID-19 patient surge. Some clinics and outpatient services will temporarily be closed.

ARH will furlough around 500 of the ARH system’s 6,000 employees. This will affect approximately 8 percent of ARH’s existing workforce, the statement said. The furloughs, according to the statement, are intended to be temporary. Affected employees were notified of the furloughs Friday, ARH Vice President of Human Resources Sonya Bergman said.

Bergman said in a statement, while vital in the fight against the COVID-19 virus, the healthcare industry unfortunately is not totally immune to the impacts to business operations and temporary staffing reductions seen across the country as businesses stay in compliance with mandates made by the local, state and federal governments, which include the temporary cessation of certain services. To date, the statement said, ARH has seen a 30 percent decrease in its overall business operations from a decline in patient volumes and the closure of services related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision at ARH was necessary, she saiid, to redeploy resources to clinical areas that will be most-needed to effectively address the expected surge in COVID-19 patients who will need inpatient and outpatient treatment, and to minimize risk to staff in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) risk-mitigation guidelines.

“In this time of unprecedented uncertainty, this was not an easy decision to make. The temporary furloughs are in the best interest of the health of our employees and the community,” Bergman said. “As healthcare 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.

“We consider these furloughs temporary,” Bergman added. “When it is safe for our employees to resume work as normal and patient volumes return, we plan to restore services and bring these employees back.”

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