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Cincinnati doctors, EMTs face pay cuts in face of COVID-19 pandemic

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 11:48:33-04

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions here.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated who would be taking a pay cut at TriHealth. Only senior leaders are taking a 20 percent pay cut.

CINCINNATI – Many Cincinnati-area doctors and paramedics and are facing pay cuts as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to impact the bottom lines of hospital systems and medical companies.

WCPO obtained an email that Mercy Health sent to many of its doctors last week, outlining proposed pay changes.

“If your productivity declined significantly, we will reduce your base draw commensurate to 70% of your historical average productivity. At this time, we do not anticipate needing to reduce your base draw below 70%," the email states.

“We know this could have a significant impact on your bi-weekly take-home pay; however we need to maintain fair market controls … While no one can predict when the pandemic will end and business will return to normal, we do anticipate many of you will be able to rebound and recover a large portion of any lost productivity in the months that follow,” the email states.

Cincinnati-based Mercy Health is the largest health system in Ohio. With more than 35,000 employees across Ohio and Kentucky, it is one of the largest health care systems in the nation.

While the pandemic is predicted to flood hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units, the government precautions put in place to limit the spread of the virus are having considerable financial effects on hospitals and other medical companies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on many businesses and First Care is not immune,” said Dennis Young, president of First Care Ohio, an ambulance and medical transport company.

“The postponement of elective surgeries and procedures has significantly reduced the number of non-emergency medical transports we provide in our community,” Young said. “So has the decrease in transporting nursing home residents between healthcare facilities due to shelter-in-place restrictions.”

Young has been forced to lay off some employees, but not paramedics or EMTs, and institute a 10 percent pay cut for others, including all senior management positions.

“Given the significant decrease in demand for our services, we have taken steps to reduce costs in the short-run to ensure we have the necessary resources to keep as many of our valued employees at work and be ready for any changes in need and demand in the longer-run,” Young said.

But employees are not happy with the pay cuts and layoffs.

“We’re striving to help your families in this time of need. Now some your loved ones may not get that ride to the hospital they need. We are devastated,” a First Care employee wrote in an email to WCPO this week.

Many Mercy Health doctors are also upset.

“We find this disingenuous and somewhat offensive,” several physicians wrote to Mercy administrators in an email obtained by WCPO this week.

“The primary care physicians are currently on the front line of the battle – we are, somewhat unwillingly, the potential initial contact with not only the COVID-19 patients, but also all sick and ailing individuals who need evaluation and triage,” the doctors wrote. “This proposal would not only cut pay but also punish us for those very conditions beyond our control. And we MUST reiterate – we are not "NOT WORKING" – it is just the scope and style of our work that has changed.”

Maureen Richmond, Mercy Health director of public relations, declined to discuss specifics on compensation. But she did explain how the company is shifting to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have transitioned our care model to virtual care where clinically appropriate and have limited our office-based care to that which is essential. We are now offering e-visits, video visits,” she said. “We have also started to redeploy caregivers to ensure we have the expertise necessary to care for each patient who comes through our doors.”

“Our team is doing everything possible to keep compensation consistent, despite the changes taking place across our markets. We are committed to keeping each provider informed of any changes that may occur throughout this dynamic pandemic situation,” she said.

TriHealth President and CEO Mark Clement notified employees in a March 24 email of a 20-percent pay cut for senior leaders.

"Like all health systems nationwide, TriHealth has been impacted significantly by the decision to cease elective and non-emergent medical procedures and appointments. As a result, TriHealth has to adjust its staffing levels to match the current needs – knowing that those needs will change as this pandemic grows," Clement wrote.

"We are addressing those adjustments in a variety of ways, such as redeploying team members into critical care areas, allowing extended use of vacation and illness time, financially supporting quarantined team members, providing benefits continuation, and, if necessary, reducing hours," Clement wrote. "These actions are temporary, so we can be fully prepared for the surge in demand which we expect to come from this pandemic and ultimately start the return to routine operations afterward.

TriHealth, which is the region's largest health system, established a $2 million emergency fund to help impacted employees, Clement wrote.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital temporarily closed locations in Eastgate, Mason and Northern Kentucky as a result of COVID-19.

"In addition, all elective surgeries and some appointments have been canceled to help build capacity for a potential COVID-19 surge. As a result, many of our employees are being re-assigned to other locations. And some may be temporarily released from their duties," said Cincinnati Children's senior director of external relations Libby Coulton.

"For those who are unable to work or have been temporarily released from their duties, we have developed temporary pay practices to provide stability and security," Coulton said. "For most of these employees, we will continue their regular pay for an extended period of time as we navigate through this fluid situation."

Employees can also receive help from the Cincinnati Children’s Employee Emergency Fund.

WCPO also reached out to other major hospital systems in the area to ask about layoffs or pay cuts.

Christ Hospital spokesman Bo McMillan said that “no decisions have been made regarding changes to physician compensation at this time.”

University of Cincinnati Medical Center and St. Elizabeth’s Healthcare did not return requests for comment on potential pay cuts to physicians.