The Chattanooga area's main provider of hospice services had a round of layoffs this week.
An affected employee at Hospice of Chattanooga said there were at least 30 employees who lost their jobs in the staff reduction, including nurses, the wound care nurse and four of the seven grievance counselors. There were nine grievance counselors earlier this sumer until one retired and one moved, the employee said.
Medical personnel involved in the triage program were laid off and that function will be handled under a contract with a firm out of Chicago, Ill.
, employees said.
Pay was also tightened for after-hours staff.
Mr. Taylor earlier ended a long-standing contract with Kingwood Pharmacy of East Ridge for supplies and specialty medicines, outsourcing it.
The reduction comes after Hospice of Chattanooga waged an expensive battle to try to keep Dr. Deanna Duncan from opening a rival hospice firm here.
In a 7-3 vote in late June, the Health Services and Development Agency board voted to clear the way for Dr. Duncan to operate Hearth LLC. It will be located on Rossville Avenue near the art business of her husband, Terry Cannon.
Hearth LLC is projected to operate in nine Tennessee counties and be serving over 200 patients in its second year. Hearth LLC has not yet opened, but is gearing up.
Dr. Duncan was at Hospice of Chattanooga for seven years. But she left soon after Clark Taylor, a former Memorial Hospital CEO, arrived in early 2010.
A laid-off employee said of morale at Hospice of Chattanooga, "The teams are just devastated. Everyone is in an uproar about all of this."
The former employee said when employees are dismissed that supervisors go with them to their desks and wait until they clean out their desks. The employee said some employees in anticipation of being caught in another wave of layoffs have started taking personal items home from their desks.
The ex-employee said the three remaining grievance counselors have been told they will no longer help active hospice patients, but will train less-paid social workers for that duty and will also work with support groups that have been formed in the community.
The former employee said, "It is not being run like a non-profit anymore. Everything is about making money. They wanted us to try to get more people to donate money.
"The emphasis is no longer on patient care and that's a horrible situation for the patient. I grieve over that."
The ex-employee said the first year that Mr. Taylor was at Hospice of Chattanooga the Christmas bonus for employees was cut to $100. "Last Christmas we didn't get a Christmas card.
"In all of this, no administrative position was cut - not a one."
Another employee who was laid off this month said, "In retrospect, a couple of months ago I was invited to a small, private corporate meeting where a speaker, from out-of-town, spoke for two solid days on how to tighten up the company and make a bigger profit.
"I had a hard time trying to incorporate the concept of making a profit with a Hospice which is advertised as the only non-profit Hospice in Chattanooga. But I was bedazzled by the care my team provided to our patients so I didn’t question much. I was happy.
"Then, the company had a huge meeting this past Tuesday where the CEO announced that the news is bad and that it is going to get worse because a lot more people are going to be laid-off in the near future.
"I don’t know how this is going to affect quality care to our dying patients, but I surmise that it can’t be a very nice future for their care. This week alone, Hospice of Chattanooga has already laid off three grief counselors, a handful of nurses, and THE ONLY ‘Wound Care Nurse’ on staff."
Mr. Taylor sent this memo to Hospice of Chattanooga employees last Saturday as a notification of the upcoming cuts:
It’s Saturday, but I feel it’s important to communicate this information to you now, because in today’s environment this news quickly becomes public both inside and outside of our organization.
First, the decision has been made for HOC to sign on with a company that provides coverage of Triage calls for many hospice organizations nationwide. This is not an answering service. The nurses who will answer our calls are hospice-trained staff. This service will begin handling our night, weekend and holiday calls in one week, July 16th. As you would expect, this move will impact the Triage call staff, which were informed of the decision yesterday afternoon.
Second, we are restructuring the method of payment for after-hours staff. We will more closely align staffing to the hours we receive calls, with the remainder of time covered through on call.
Third, we will no longer have what we have known as a Baylor team. Instead we will have a team that will work Saturday and Sunday and one eight hour shift during the week. I recall when local hospitals initiated a ‘Baylor’ system and when several years later they had to modify it since it was too costly…..we too are there.
Decisions like these are always challenging but please know they have not been made without an awful lot of study by leadership and a review by the board of directors. As with any change, there will be an impact on people. In those instances we will do all that we can to be fair.
There will be people around you who will not like this news and who will be negative. That’s expected. But please know that we must be proactive, right now, and make tough decisions to ensure we have the resources to continue to deliver the highest possible quality care to the communities we serve, in the months and years ahead. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.
See you at the all staff meeting on Tuesday.