Baptist Hospital to Cut Jobs

The next time you go to the hospital, you may be faced with a longer wait, even if that visit requires vital equipment.

That's because layoffs are about to hit a local hospital. Baptist Hospital isn't saying yet how many people are about to lose their jobs, but they do say it will be a lot. Hospital officials are blaming federal Medicare payments for their problems.

There are a lot of factors coming together to cause this layoff. But the bottom line is this: Montgomery has a large number of poor people - and the federal government isn't paying enough for their Medicare coverage.

The final number hasn't been decided yet, but by the end of this month, a lot of Baptist employees' cars won't be parked here anymore. Forrest MacDonald, a Baptist employee says if it happens to him, "I'll find something else."

Baptist officials say they have no choice. The hospital is losing millions of dollars in two ways from poor patient care the hospital never gets paid for, and Medicare payments that aren't as large as bigger cities in the United States.

Randall Hoover, the CEO of Baptist says, "We really get reimbursed nothing for the indigent care that we see."

Baptist officials also will not rule out the possibility the hospital could be taken over by a private company - although they say they're going to avoid that if they can. For now, patients will have to adapt to some new realities - possibly longer waits .  "Our mission is direct patient care. We're going to be very careful not to affect quality and what we do with direct patient care," adds Hoover.

Baptist isn't alone with the underpayments problem. Jackson Hospital is also feeling the pinch but avoiding layoffs for now. But its CEO says it may not be immune to cuts in the future. "We're very close to those circumstances today. We've been experiencing losses for the last four consecutive years in our operations and we've been dipping into our reserves for the last four years," says Donald Ball.

The reason Medicare payments are so low here is this: they're based on the average salary in each city. Montgomery's average salary is very low - so our hospitals get only about 73 cents out of each dollar covered by Medicare. Baptist officials compare that to San Diego, which gets $1.50 - simply because California has a much higher base wage. All of this is set by congress.

There's a reform bill in front of congress right now - the hospitals are lobbying for a change, but they're asking normal citizens to get involved and make their voices heard as well. They believe that will make a difference.

The hospitals say the higher wages Hyundai will bring in will help, but they say because the factory's opening is nearly three years away, it will be too late to avoid more financial problems.