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Hospital jobs down, but sector steady

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

STATEWIDE —Planned layoffs by several Oregon health-care providers indicate that not even the state’s hospital workforce is immune to the weakened economy.

Oregon Health & Science University will cut 150 to 300 jobs, while Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls plans to eliminate the equivalent of 60 full-time positions. Cascades Healthcare Community, operator of four hospitals in Central Oregon, recently announced budget reductions that will likely result in layoffs and program eliminations, and 20 full-time positions will be eliminated at Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford.

But even with these layoffs, Oregon’s hospital workforce expanded by 2,000 jobs last year. And industrywide job growth isn’t expected to wane anytime soon. The number of health-care jobs is predicted to increase 27% by 2016, according to a report by the Oregon Healthcare Workforce Institute.

“Significant vacancies existed in the market prior to the recession, and they continue to exist now,” says Jo Isgrigg, executive director of OHWI.

Oregon’s hospitals have not escaped the financial crisis unscathed however. Hospitals with large investment portfolios have seen returns dwindle, while the upheaval of the U.S. bond market has left hospitals struggling to pay higher interest on outstanding debt.

Hospitals will have to reconcile an increasing amount of bad debt accrued on behalf of uninsured patients and will see a drop in patient volumes, warn several hospital executives. In anticipation of lower revenues, hospitals have tightened their operating budgets to compensate.

Attempting to stave off future layoffs, many hospitals have instituted hiring and salary freezes and created programs to retrain employees whose positions have been eliminated. Hospitals statewide are also cutting back on extraneous expenses like travel, and are renegotiating cost relationships with medical suppliers.

For now though, the growing population and high vacancy rate in health-care occupations will translate into continued job growth in the healthcare industry, says Isgrigg.                          


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