Ellwood City Medical Center employees learned by text message Friday that they would not be receiving paychecks that day — the latest development in ongoing concerns at the troubled hospital.
Medical center Chief Executive Officer Beverly Annarumo confirmed in an email to the New Castle News on Friday that the hospital furloughed 92 of its 171 employees Thursday after the Pennsylvania Department of Health suspended operations in the medical center's emergency department Nov. 27.
DOH press secretary Nate Wardle said Friday that the health department also has suspended admissions.
The shutdown is temporary, pending the hospital's satisfactory completion of a correction plan, Wardle said.
"This was due to serious violations of the Health Care Facilities Act, Section 811," he said. That provision in state law deals with patient safety.
Wardle said a health department survey is under way. Details on the violations and remedies will be posted 41 days afterward, once the hospital has an approved correction plan.
"That would certainly be sometime in the new year," he said, adding that the current restrictions are in place until further notice.
"These actions were meant to be temporary, and we have been working with leadership at the facility to bring it back into compliance in order to resume admitting patients and provide emergency department services," Wardle said.
He noted that the health department was made aware of the layoffs Thursday.
Annarumo confirmed the layoffs in an email to the New Castle News on Friday, attributing the decision to the Department of Health's actions as well as declining census and “late payments by payers.”
"We are hopeful that most of these lay-offs will be temporary," Annarumo wrote. "We do need to repair our CT scanner. It needs parts that may cost more than it would to lease a new piece of equipment."
She said Americore LLC, which owns the hospital, is evaluating whether repairing the existing equipment or leasing new equipment makes more sense.
"Repairing it would cost more but would have us open sooner. Leasing guarantees less down time, but will take a little longer," she wrote. "We need to make sure that we are making the best decision to carry us into the future."
State officials are familiar with Ellwood City Medical Center's issues.
"We've been working with hospital leadership for a period of time as they've dealt with financial difficulties to ensure they are a safe facility providing care to residents of the area," Wardle said.
A laid-off worker, who asked not to be identified, shared a letter dated Dec. 5, 2019, and signed by Grant White, Americore's chief executive officer. The letter states that along with the emergency and inpatient departments, several other hospital operations also have been shut down or now have reduced staff. This includes, but is not limited to, all weekend and night shifts.
The letter, which notifies employees of the temporary layoff, continues with, "I would like to confirm Ellwood City Medical Center's final arrangements with you."
The letter states that if an employee carries benefits through the hospital, they will continue until Dec. 31 at midnight. After that date, employees will get information about how to pick up COBRA coverage.
White's letter includes instructions on filing Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation claims electronically.
While Annarumo's email indicates the furloughs are temporary, White's letter includes "rehire information," telling the workers that when they are called back to work, they will be considered new hires with a waiting period for benefit enrollment.
"You will be notified when your paychecks are available for pickup," the letter continues. "Please bring your employee badge and keys with you in order to obtain this paycheck, if you have not already returned them."
The letter ends, "We appreciate your commitment to the company ... We wish you well in your future endeavors."
The offices of state Sen. Elder Vogel (R-47, New Sewickley Township) and state Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-10, New Beaver) have reached out to their affected constituents with offers of assistance.
Josh Konecheck, district director in Vogel's office, said affected employees can contact the senator's office for job search leads as well as temporary aid through state and social service organizations.
Additionally, payment plans are available for laid off Ellwood City Electric customers. Borough manager David Allen may be contacted at 724-758-5576.
More information about help available can be found on Vogel's Facebook page or by calling his office numbers: 724-774-0444 in Rochester or 724-654-1444 in New Castle.
Bernstine said in a Facebook post that his office is providing similar services, and he is attempting to coordinate with health care facilities to set up a job fair for those furloughed employees.