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St. John's Hospital Lays Off 58; Inpatient Decline Blamed

March 09, 1995|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Reflecting a trend evident throughout the health care industry, St. John's Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica has laid off 58 employees and reduced the hours of 25 others in response to declining demand for inpatient services.

Bruce Lamoureux, the hospital's chief operating officer, said last month's layoffs occurred because patient stays are fewer in number and shorter in duration than before the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake. St. John's reopened in October after a months-long rebuilding project to repair the quake damage.

"It really becomes a soothsaying exercise trying to predict how many patients would return to the hospital," Lamoureux said. "We were incorrect in our prediction of the length of time a patient stays in the hospital. When we closed in January, 1994, the average stay was 6.4 days and now the stay is 5.2."

Lamoureux said the hospital had expected a daily census of about 190 inpatients after reopening, but instead has had an average of about 150.

The laid-off employees worked in non-medical departments--human resources, marketing, secretarial and environmental services. All of the employees affected were offered severance pay.

Health-care facilities throughout the region are downsizing largely because of the growth of managed care, which stresses outpatient treatment, said David Langness, spokesman for the Hospital Council of Southern California.

"There has been a very severe turnaround," Langness said. "We can do things in the hospital on an outpatient basis that, 40 years ago, we used to do in the hospital."

Santa Monica Hospital and Medical Center laid off 46 full-time employees in November because of a drop in its inpatient census, said Ted Braun, spokesman for the hospital, where the January quake caused $15 million in damage.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, meanwhile, laid off 275 employees last year, some of whom found new positions in the hospital. And Century City Hospital laid off 35 employees, all of whom had been hired to handle the influx of patients caused by the temporary closing of St. John's. UCLA Medical Center says it has laid off only 12 employees.

At St. John's, the problem of shrinking inpatient business has been compounded by the massive economic blow of the earthquake. The quake caused about $105 million in damage to the hospital, causing a $45-million to $50-million budget shortfall, Lamoureux said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reimbursed St. John's for $22 million in claims and the hospital's insurance company has paid $35 million, he said. There may be an additional $3.6 million to come from FEMA, he added.

St. John's officials say they are optimistic about the health center's future, despite the hospital's economic pressures and its failed attempt last December to merge with Santa Monica Hospital. St. John's had been in negotiations with Santa Monica Hospital about forming a cooperative venture until Santa Monica Hospital officials went into exclusive talks with UCLA Medical Center.

"We're glad we have closure" on negotiations with Santa Monica Hospital, said Lamoureux. "We feel energized to move ahead swiftly with our planning activity to meet the community's needs."

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