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Southern Regional confirms staff cuts amid financial woes

Forty-three employees and 61 positions cut

Southern Regional Medical Center President Jim Crissey, right, addresses Clayton County Chamber of Commerce leaders about the hospital’s financial situation during Clayton County Chamber Day at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

Southern Regional Medical Center President Jim Crissey, right, addresses Clayton County Chamber of Commerce leaders about the hospital’s financial situation during Clayton County Chamber Day at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

ATLANTA — Southern Regional Medical Center recently laid off dozens of employees and cut several positions, including some top-level offices, in an attempt to cut spending, the hospital’s president told business leaders this week.

Southern Regional President Jim Crissey told Clayton County Chamber of Commerce members the hospital is working to make operations more lean to show a good-faith effort to reduce annual expenses by at least $12 million.

Over the last two years, the hospital has operated at annual deficits of more than $10 million in large part of unfunded federal mandates regarding emergency room care. Crissey and other Southern Regional leaders have approached county leaders about obtaining public funding to help shoulder the cost of maintaining the hospital.

Crissey explained the hospital’s request, and its efforts to cut costs, during Clayton County Chamber Day at the Capitol on Tuesday.

“Last Wednesday, we eliminated 61 positions and laid off 43 people,” said Crissey. “I haven’t had a pay raise in 18 months and neither has my executive assistant. We did eliminate one vice-president position, two director positions and the rest of these were overhead.”

Southern Regional’s financial woes come at a time when it is receiving accolades for its quality of care. Despite the money issues, Emory Healthcare announced Wednesday that Southern Regional is one of 72 hospitals named to one of the Georgia Hospital Association’s three Partnership for Health and Accountability Core Measures Honor Rolls.

Southern Regional was one of 23 hospitals to make the Honor Roll in the “Presidential” category. Emory has a management agreement to run Southern Regional. However, when Crissey was asked by a chamber member Tuesday what the agreement means financially for the hospital, Crissey explained the agreement does not extend to financial support from Emory.

County commissioners have conceded that they cannot turn a blind eye to Southern Regional’s plight. They are considering taking out bonds to help the 43-year old hospital and will likely pay off the debt by putting $50-$75 million in bond payments on the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project list which is expected to be taken up next week.

Crissey said Southern Regional is facing a situation several hospitals in Georgia are facing. Federal law forbids hospitals from refusing to provide care to patients who come into their emergency rooms if they cannot pay for the care. However, there is no funding to cover those expenses.

“Southern Regional, today, has the sixth busiest emergency room in the state of Georgia,” Crissey said. “We see over 80,000 visitors a year. We have 1,815 employees. What stresses us is the fact that we’re providing over $85 million a year in free care for the community we serve. That stresses us and it stresses hospitals across Georgia, and all across the United States.

“We’re not the only hospital to turn to alternative funding sources to try and offset these costs,” he added.

One-third of Georgia’s 159 counties provide some degree of public funding to their hospitals, Crissey said.

If the hospital bond payments are placed on the SPLOST list, as expected, Crissey said voters will have to decide whether they want to continue to have access to health care that gets recognized by groups such as the Georgia Hospital Association.

Clayton County’s growth could be adversely affected if Southern Regional has to close because of the funding issue. Access to health care is key to economic development, Crissey said.

“It’s important to remember we’ve been in this community for 43 years and we need to be here for another 43 years because it would be economically devastating to not have that hospital there,” Crissey said. “Our payroll is $92 million a year and we have 1,815 employees.”

The commission will take up the SPLOST project list at its meeting March 4, at 7 p.m., at the Board of Commissioners Building, 112 Smith St., in Jonesboro.

But getting onto the SPLOST project list and getting approved by voters will be two entirely different feats. Clayton County Chief Financial Officer Ramona Thurman said the support of business leaders will become increasingly important if the hospital funding is on the project list.

State law forbids county commissioners and government employees from advocating for the SPLOST’s passage. Therefore, Thurman said, that duty will fall to people like the business leaders.

“That’s where the community will come in — to be out there and advocate for the SPLOST once it’s on the ballot,” she said.

In addition to the financial issues at Southern Regional, chamber members also received a presentation on transportation issues facing metro Atlanta and the county in particular when they were at the Capitol. Read Saturday’s edition of Clayton News Daily for coverage of the transportation conversation.