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Penn Highlands drops 600 workers

Penn Highlands Healthcare has begun discharging 600 workers through furloughs, layoffs and elimination of outside staff to contend with the coronavirus, which has caused a 40 percent drop in revenues, the five-hospital system’s chief operating officer said Wednesday.

Those losing work comprise 66 at Penn Highlands Huntingdon, 338 at Penn Highlands DuBois, 49 at the corporate offices there and 43 at Penn Highlands Clearfield, along with 24 at Penn Highlands Brookville and 65 at Penn Highlands Elk in St. Marys, said Mark Norman on a conference call.

“It was a hard decision,” Norman said.

But the COVID-19 crisis has led to “unprecedented changes in economics” for hospitals, including at Penn Highlands, where there was a required cancellation of elective surgeries and procedures to prepare for a COVID-19 surge along with cancellations due to patient fears and their compliance with stay-home orders, Norman said.

Sixty percent of the cuts are by furlough, and those employees can be brought back quickly, when it’s feasible, Norman said. The furloughs are projected to last until the end of May, he said.

The cuts were to begin Wednesday for the 4,400-employee system and play out over several days, according to Norman.

Another employee disruption has been the redeployment of clinical staff to prepare for the surge, which still hasn’t occurred, Norman said.

Other strategies adopted to deal with COVID-19 have seen an increased use of telemedicine, according to Norman.

Approximately 200 providers have undergone special training to provide remote consultations, which has been shown to be “safe and effective for most conditions,” said Shaun Sheehan, director of emergency medicine for Penn Highlands and head of the system’s coronavirus task force.

Penn Highlands patients should consider telemedicine appointments so that they can keep up with their routine health care needs — despite, and even because of — the pandemic, which can be especially dangerous for those with issues common in the area, including coronary disease, obesity and smoking, according to Sheehan. They can use the MyHealthNow app, he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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