UW Medicine concludes union bargaining, announces furloughs


Computer equipment used at UW Medicine
Claire McLean
Deliberate steps have been taken to ensure patient care is not impacted by aligning staff levels with current and predicted patient volumes

UW Medicine announced today, May 25, that it has concluded impact bargaining with its union partners and is moving forward with temporary furloughs for approximately 4,000 members of its unionized workforce.

This decision follows actions last week to furlough approximately 1,500 professional and classified non-union staff to help address the financial challenges caused by COVID-19. These collective actions are necessary to address the unprecedented estimated financial impact of approximately $500 million to UW Medicine due to COVID-19.

Impacted employees, including those who have volunteered to participate, will be furloughed from one-to-eight weeks and will maintain benefits including health insurance during the furlough period. UW Medicine executive leaders, directors and managers are participating in furloughs along with staff across UW Medicine including Harborview Medical Center, the two University of Washington Medical Center campuses, UW Neighborhood Clinics, Faculty Practice Plan Services, UW Medicine shared services, and Airlift Northwest. Valley Medical Center has already taken several actions, including furloughs and staffing changes related to low census.

“This has been a very difficult, but necessary, decision to address the financial challenges facing UW Medicine and all healthcare organizations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine Hospitals & Clinics. “We have taken deliberate steps to ensure patient care is not impacted by aligning staff levels with current and predicted patient volumes including the return of elective procedures, expanded in-person clinical services and continued expansion of telehealth, while ensuring UW Medicine is prepared to respond to future surges of patients with COVID-19.”

The financial situation is the result of substantial lost clinical revenue since the start of the pandemic due to the cancellation or postponement of elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures and the high cost of treating patients with COVID-19, including diagnostic testing and high use of personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to safely care for patients.

UW Medicine previously announced a series of steps to increase revenue and reduce expenses to stabilize its financial foundation. In addition to seeking reimbursements under federal and state programs for some of the lost net revenue and costs associated with COVID-19, UW Medicine is gradually resuming a full range of clinical services and designing long-term changes in how it delivers high-quality, safe and cost-effective care. UW Medicine has also taken urgent actions to reduce expenses, including reductions in the salaries for senior leaders and tight controls on spending. These steps will achieve an estimated savings of $76.5 million, on top of the approximately $180 million UW Medicine has secured in federal funds and state commitments.

As a system at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, UW Medicine has played and continues to play a critical role in responding to the pandemic, including developing tools, policies and procedures to create and enforce safe work environments for both patients and staff and sharing those learnings worldwide; developing rapid screening and testing for active COVID-19 as well as antibody testing; outreach and testing to vulnerable populations including the homeless and high-risk populations; developing models and projections to guide clinical and public health responses to the pandemic; and leading research on potential treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

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