Ballad Health to furlough 1,300 team members Friday, majority of employees in Tennessee

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Ballad Health President and CEO Alan Levine announced furloughs and pay cuts Wednesday amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

While he did not specify what positions, Levine said there are 1,300 team members that will be furloughed. He said about 1,100 of those positions are in Tennessee and about 200-250 positions are in Virginia.

Ballad Health employs about 15,000 team members.

Many of those employees, Levine said, have suffered reduced hours since Ballad suspended all its elective procedures. A furlough will help them get unemployment benefits, he said.

Furloughs will begin on Friday, Levine said, and the length of the furlough will depend from person-to-person. Employees may be called back to work at any time, he added.

“Our plan is to revisit this within 60 days, but it’s going to be an ongoing issue,” he said during the conference. “There are going to be people called back before the end of that 60-day period depending on the needs of the organization.”

Furloughed team members will receive full health and pharmacy benefits from Ballad, Levine said, and about 70% of them will be able to sustain their pay through federal and state health benefits.

Tennessee workers who make less than $45,500 per year and Virginian employees who make less than $50,586 per year will receive more money from unemployment benefits than through their current pay at Ballad, Levine said.

Ballad Health could have a hard time crawling out of a financial hole on the other side of the pandemic, Levine continued. The organization is projected to lose about $155 million in the next 90 days, he said, adding that he doesn’t expect to see that cash come back.

“I think there’s going to be a period of time where people are going to be very slow to return to the healthcare setting,” he said. “You’re seeing a huge expansion of telemedicine now, which is a good thing, but you’re going to find a lot of people that realize they don’t have to return back to a doctor’s office or a clinical setting because the use of technology may now replace that.”

Furloughed employees may be recalled back to work, Levine said. A healthy employee who elects not to come back to work after a recall will be considered a voluntary resignee, he said, and that information will be sent to the state unemployment office.

While some employees are being furloughed, the organization is guaranteeing full shifts for what Levine called “front-line” employees – registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), respiratory therapists and nursing assistants.

“We need you here now, we need you in the event there’s a surge,” Levine said.

He referenced reports of healthcare professionals going to COVID-19 hotspots to aid in care there. He cautioned local healthcare workers from taking similar action because it could detract from their ability to help locally.

“If you travel and you come back, you’re going to have to be quarantined for 14 days,” he said. “If we get a surge here, that means we can’t use your skills here where you’re needed.”

He added that employees who choose to go to hotspots to help won’t be considered as “resigned” if they are called back from furlough and must be quarantined.

Levine said the goal is to “bring all of our team members back,” but said the health system will have to continue to shoulder the financial blows from the economic impacts of the virus.

Administrative employees affected by the furlough may also cash out their PTO, Levine said, but won’t be allowing those employees to borrow past their allotted PTO as he said other health systems in the nation are doing. Employees may also withdraw up to $100,000 of their retirement without penalty.

He added that positions of Senior Vice President and above positions will be taking a 20% reduction in pay for 60 days, Levine said, effective on Sunday.

Assistant Vice President and Vice Presidents will have pay reduced by 10% in that same 60 days, he annoucned.

“It’s difficult to make decisions like this,” Levine said. “We certainly don’t want to be making decisions like this if we’re not demonstrating to our team members that we’re not willing to do the same thing.”

SEE ALSO: Ballad Health CEO announces he will forego 100% of pay over next 60 days, giving it to employee assistance fund

You can watch the entire news conference here:

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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