As healthcare job growth slows, some look to restructure long-term operations

Healthcare job losses reached staggering levels amid stay-at-home orders and the widespread cancellation of elective procedures when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit this spring. Dentists and ambulatory services were particularly hard hit.

While the industry has since recovered many of the 1.3 million jobs lost this April, it’s still 527,000 short from February levels, and monthly gains have slowed since, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the same time, some of the major hospitals that issued furloughs or layoffs early in the pandemic are now further reducing the size of their workforce.

The stagnation will likely continue, as companies “don’t hire as many people, then lay some people off to also try and save money, because worse times may be ahead,” said Erica Groshen, former BLS commissioner and senior labor economics adviser at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

One example is Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White, which laid off 3% of its workforce, or 1,200 employees in May. It’s now laying off a third of its corporate finance staff, though some impacted employees are being offered positions with a third-party vendor, the system said in a Monday statement.

Providence Health & Services laid off 183 employees in mostly administrative roles as a result of transitioning work to a third-party vendor, while five employees were laid off “as a result of business need,” according to a WARN notice letter the system sent to an Oregon state agency Nov. 16. It previously issued an unknown number of furloughs across its 51-hospital system.

And Utah-based Intermountain Health said it would cut 250 business-related jobs by offering 750 employees voluntary separation packages on Oct. 13.

The moves come even while hospitals are stretched to the brink from the highest surge of coronavirus cases the country has yet seen. In the past few weeks, many have halted elective procedures and paid steep rates for temporary nursing staff, further straining finances.

And other healthcare establishments, such as some doctor’s offices and medical labs, are still struggling to get reluctant patients back in.

A recent Labor Department survey covering the onset of the pandemic through September found among all healthcare businesses, 64% experienced a decrease in demand while only 13% experienced an increase in demand.

In November, healthcare businesses overall added 46,000 jobs in — fewer than the 58,000 jobs added in October; 53,000 in September; and 75,000 in August, according to BLS data.

Hospitals added about 4,000 jobs in November and are about 100,000 jobs short from February.

Most recently, home health services and physician’s offices posted the biggest gains, in line with recent months, although the only sector back to its pre-pandemic job numbers is outpatient care centers.

Ambulatory care centers, physicians’ offices, home health agencies, dentists, hospitals and medical and diagnostic labs still have some jobs to recoup.

Nursing homes have suffered the worst within the industry, posting consistent monthly job losses after being brutally hit by the pandemic earlier this year given their vulnerable populations.