In an effort to avoid layoffs at the county's nursing home, some full-time nursing and administrative jobs are being shrunk to part-time positions.
After agonizing over how to make growing expenses meet the dwindling income at Wood Haven Health Care, the county commissioners agreed Tuesday to a plan that cuts 12 full-time positions to part-time with no benefits.
"While the restructuring is painful," it is less traumatic than layoffs, Commissioner Tim Brown said.
"This is a better option than layoffs, where five or seven people will be out on the street all together," said Pam Boyer, human resources benefits manager for the county.
The need for the cuts arose recently when the census for the nursing home dipped to 65. To break even, the facility needs 80 residents.
So officials began looking for ways to bring expenses more in line with revenues at the nursing home. Those options included possibly laying off some of the 108 employees, cutting hours, changing health benefits, and asking employees to take a voluntary reduction in pay.
Steve Spirn, labor relations consultant for the county, said several nursing home facilities are finding themselves in even more dire situations.
"I've been at a lot of tables where we are talking about are we going to stay open or not," Spirn said.
Under the county's plan, Wood Haven Health Care will first reduce hours for full-time nurses and administrative staff up to eight hours a week. Though never done before, the commissioners plan to continue health insurance coverage for these new part-time positions. Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said that due to the "fiscal distress" and with a definite cut off date in three months, the continuation of the benefits would be acceptable.
After three months, the full-time positions will be abolished, along with insurance benefits, vacation time and paid holidays.
The goal is to give the home more flexibility in staffing for low census numbers - more "wiggle room," since high staffing isn't needed with low patient counts, according to David Cecil, nursing home administrator.
Cecil praised the staff, many who have worked there for decades.
"We've got a stable staff, which is one of the advantages of our facility," he said.
Sue Coker, director of nursing at the home, said she feared the cuts would result in some of those experienced people leaving the staff.
"It's going to be tough, telling these people - you are going to be part-time," and will lose health insurance, she said. "We're going to lose some people."
But the shift to part-time hours is the only way to prevent layoffs, according to Spirn.
"That's what staff has to understand," he said.
The hope is that eventually, when the economy improves, the census will rebound.
"If our facility is given the tools to properly manage itself, it can turn things around," Brown said.
Cecil said last week that the drop in the census is in part due to the recession. Families are putting off placing elderly members in nursing homes, and are taking advantage of less expensive in-home services. And many individuals are putting off elective surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements. That has led to fewer people using the rehabilitation services at the nursing home.
At the same time, many more people are returning to their own homes after recuperating at the county home. Of last year's 160 admissions to the facility, 108 returned to their homes, Cecil said. And fewer patients are spending several years at the nursing home.
"As a profession, we're all struggling," Cecil said.
The commissioners emphasized that the nursing home administration was not to blame for the cuts.
"This is a product of a severe downturn in a national economy that has caught up with us," Brown said.
"The whole world is upside down from what we knew before," Commissioner Jim Carter said.
"We've probably had one of the best nursing homes for many years," Commissioner Alvie Perkins said.
The commissioners stressed that county human resource staff should assist the nursing home workers affected by the cuts, to make the changes as seamless as possible.
"We need to be there for the employees impacted," Brown said.
And Cecil stressed that patient care will not suffer.
"We're going to make it, we're going to get through these times," he said.