HARLINGEN — Valley Baptist Health System is furloughing an undetermined number of employees to make up for financial shortfalls at Tenet Health as a result of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary furloughs, announced Wednesday, are occurring at VBHS hospitals in Brownsville, Harlingen and Weslaco and could last as long as three months.
Valley Baptist Health System is owned by Dallas-based Tenet Health, which through its brands, subsidiaries, joint ventures and partnerships, operates about 65 hospitals and around 500 other health care facilities.
“The actions Tenet has been taking company-wide will impact approximately 10 percent of the company’s total workforce,” VBHS Chief Executive Officer Manny Vela said via email. “But let me provide some context on that number — it’s not 10 percent today; the vast majority of that figure encompasses previous actions already taken within Tenet’s ambulatory platform where activity is essentially halted given government orders cancelling elective care.
“It also encompasses actions within Tenet corporate,” Vela added. “It’s important to understand that the actions today impact less than 3 percent of hospital staff across the country.”
Vela said the furloughs would not affect care levels for persons who have contracted COVID-19 or need other emergency treatment or medically necessary patient care.
“Our Valley Baptist hospitals in Brownsville, Harlingen and Weslaco remain appropriately staffed and 100 percent functional and prepared for any potential surges in our community,” Vela said.
Hospital officials stressed that the furloughed workers would continue to receive health care coverage they elected to carry at VBHS expense, including spouses and dependents. They are eligible for unemployment benefits.
“While we have postponed the annual funding of our 401(k) match until later in the year, we are providing furloughed employees with the match now so they can have that resource available in the near term,” a VBHS statement read.
“Additionally, our Tenet corporate executive team and members of our local leadership teams are donating a portion of their salaries to our employee Care Fund which is available to all employees impacted during this time to apply for grants to offset any financial hardship posed by COVID-19,” the statement continued.
The decision to furlough employees will not affect other treatments, such as non-urgent and elective surgeries, because those already had been suspended.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s order was intended to ensure hospitals could fully focus on COVID-19 patients.
Vela said any timetable for reinstating furloughed employees would depend on the intensity and the length of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the success of social distancing and shelter-at-home orders.
“We will continue to regularly evaluate our staffing requirements and make adjustments that are responsive to the environment and the needs in our community,” Vela said. “These are truly unprecedented times, and while we cannot predict the ultimate duration of this pandemic, we are hopeful the furlough will only encompass a period of up to 12 weeks.”