Business

More than 30,000 in Virginia health care industry laid off amid pandemic

By Ned Oliver

VM – When layoffs began to surge amid widespread business closures in
Virginia, service workers were among the first and hardest hit, initially
accounting for more than 50 percent of requests for unemployment benefits.

But as the shutdown of normal life has dragged on, workers in more and
more industries have faced layoffs. And perhaps counterintuitively, that
includes more than 30,000 health care workers, according to data released
Thursday by the Virginia Employment Commission.

The trend is playing out around the country as the health care apparatus
shifts into emergency mode to respond to COVID-19. Elective procedures and
surgeries have been halted to conserve supplies of personal protective
equipment and some health care providers have decided on their own to stop
scheduling routine appointments.

The layoffs include practitioners like doctors, dentists and chiropractors
as well as support workers like massage therapists, orderlies, assistants
and home health aides.

So far, at least two hospital groups in the state have announced furloughs
of workers. Ballad Health in Southwest Virginia said between 200 to 250 of
its workers in the state are being furloughed for at least two months. Bon
Secours, which operates hospitals and medical practices in Richmond and
Hampton Roads, announced furloughs they say will last between 30 to 90
days. The company did not release Virginia specific numbers.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association said hospitals were
already facing significant financial pressures before the pandemic hit
last month. It now estimates hospitals in the state will lose $600 million
in the 30 day period between late March and late April.

“At the same time that hospitals are investing more and more resources
in acquiring the necessary supplies and equipment to meet these growing
treatment needs,” said Julian Walker, a spokesman for the association.
“You also have them forgoing considerable revenue that’s essential to
keep their operations functioning. So they’re sacrificing even at a time
when they’re investing more to respond to COVID-19.”

Overall, the food industry has still seen the largest number of
unemployment claims, accounting for 58,000 of the roughly 300,000
applications the state has received since layoffs began to spike in late
March. Other particularly hard-hit occupations include personal care and
service, office and administrative support, sales, management and
transportation.

A total of nearly 150,000 workers applied for unemployment benefits in
Virginia in the last two weeks, up from about 115,000 three weeks prior
— record numbers in a state that typically saw weekly claims hover
around 2,000.

The week-over-week increase is the fifth highest in the country, but the
Unemployment Commission said in a news release that the state also showed
“one of the most rapid slow-downs in the rate of growth” which they
said “may indicate a deceleration, or ‘flattening of the curve,’
after late-March’s steep trajectory of weekly increases.”

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