WVU Medicine implements 4-point plan to deal with coronavirus impact

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The largest private employer in West Virginia has opted against layoffs in response to a downturn of business in connection with the coronavirus.

Albert Wright

WVU Medicine, which owns or manages 19 hospitals in West Virginia with 16,000 employees, has implemented a four-point plan that comes following a significant drop in elective procedures per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control that hospitals prepare for a possible coronavirus surge.

“We’ve had about a 45 percent drop off in all of our patient volumes, both inpatient and ambulatory,” WVU Medicine President and CEO Albert Wright said during a Tuesday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.” “That’s good for flattening the curve, but it is a challenge from a business standpoint.”

Wright said the workforce is the system’s most important asset, so they wanted to find ways to keep workers on board for a potential surge and the recovery that is expected to follow.

“One of our biggest fixed costs is our salary, wages and benefits, so we’ve been trying to be creative on how we remain ready for the potential surge and the recovery when it comes, but also to take care of our workforce,” Wright said.

The four-point plan includes no layoffs.

When workers cannot be reassigned they will be paid 75 percent of their current hourly rate or current work status. Those employees will also keep their benefits. The decision will be reassessed in mid-May.

“We are still going to pay you 75 percent of your salary. So they will have some level of financial security,” Wright said.

WVU Medicine will finance that decision in a couple of ways. Wright and other senior staff members are taking a 10 percent pay cut over the next six months. A three-month hiring freeze across the entire system and the employer match of everyone’s 403(b) retirement accounts will be suspended for the rest of the year.

Wright also said Tuesday that unlike other hospitals they have been buying and stockpiling Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for use during a potential surge or during the recovery.

“That will allow us sooner rather than later to start to recover, start to take on some of those surgeries that have been deferred,” Wright said. “We don’t people gone too long and not treating their conditions.”

WVU Medicine also has a strong reserve fund.

Other hospitals in West Virginia have also been forced to make moves. Several have temporarily furloughed workers. Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC) has responded by asking workers to take time off. It’s also using its reserve fund.

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