Benedictine survives

Benedictine Hospital. (photo by Dan Barton)

[HAHV CEO David] Lundquist said the organization plans to retain as many quality patient services as possible but will reduce the total number of licensed beds operated from the 300 currently shared between the Benedictine and Kingston hospital campuses. “We are proceeding with the utmost sense of urgency to define the future of HealthAlliance,” Lundquist said. An urgent in-depth review of the Mary’s Avenue facility will be done, and a certificate of need will be prepared for the state Department of Health.

— From a HealthAlliance press release Monday afternoon, July 9

 

The headline was that HealthAlliance will be closing Kingston Hospital and consolidating operations at Benedictine Hospital. The change in direction from its previous plan was a painful and humbling step for northern Ulster County’s central healthcare institution, which had three years ago completed a new central emergency room at Kingston Hospital as its centerpiece for inpatient care.

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Yet it is quite possible that the total number of healthcare jobs in the community will not plunge, as so many anticipate. The jobs lost at HealthAlliance may for the most part simply shift to other parts of the sprawling industry.

Here’s why.

Nationally, the number of jobs in healthcare is dramatically increasing, not decreasing. And it is projected to increase for the remainder of this decade, accelerating from 2.6 percent per year in the past decade to 3.0 percent per year in the present one.

That doesn’t mean that the number of jobs is rapidly increasing in all segments of healthcare. Employment within healthcare, like employment in other industries, is constantly shifting — between categories of workers, between geographical regions, and between occupational subsectors. As more advanced and more cost-effective ways of dealing with health care evolve, employment is shifting among the providers. Hospitals are not unaffected by these shifts.

What’s currently happening with the “rightsizing” of HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley (HAHV) is not atypical. At a public information meeting a couple of weeks ago, HAHV CEO Dave Lundquist said that average bed occupancy in the two Kingston hospitals had dropped to 70 percent. At an average time only 210 of the 300 licensed beds in the two hospitals are occupied. With the present configuration, that level of occupancy doesn’t produce sufficient revenue to cover the costs of the hospitals’ infrastructure and staffing.

Lundquist noted that Benedictine had 220 beds prior to agreeing to reduce the number to 150. There’s room to restore them.

Healthcare jobs up

According to government national projections updated in the January 2012 Monthly Labor Review, total national employment in health care and social assistance rose from 12,718,000 in 2000 to 16,416,000 in 2010. The federal government predicts that number will increase to 22,954,000 by 2020.

A monthly survey of labor statistics provides details on the different currents involved in the healthcare employment stream. Hospital employment rose from 4,126,000 employees in March 2002 to 4,808,000 this March. Meanwhile, the number of people working in physicians’ offices increased from 1,959,000 to 2,412,000 in the same decade — about the same pace. That’s close to a 2 percent annual growth rate, but it’s much less expansion than the other major categories of health care have experienced. The growth in the number of jobs in nursing-care facilities increased more slowly, from 1,569,000 in 2002 to 1,665,000 this year.

Meanwhile, the number of ambulatory care workers increased nationally from 4,589,000 employees in March 2002 to 6,290,000 this March. Employment in outpatient care centers — a rapidly growing category — went from 408,800 to 649,700. Employment in home healthcare services — another important growth area — soared from 666,000 to 1,169,000 during the same decade.

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