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UK furloughs 1,700 employees, most from healthcare facilities, to address significant budgetary challenges

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

University of Kentucky officials announced on Thursday that they will furlough around 1,700 employees, as part of the first phase of a plan to address significant budgetary challenges confronting both the academic campus and UK HealthCare.

Approximately 1,500 of the full- and part-time employees work at UK HealthCare facilities, where furloughs will begin April 26. 
The other 2,000 employees work at UK’s dental clinics, which have been suspended in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as dining and transportation services.

The Hilary J. Boone Center, a campus dining and events facility, is being closed, resulting in the layoff of seven people.

Eli Capilouto

UK President Eli Capilouto says additional furloughs may be needed over the coming weeks in other units, where work has been reduced because of the ongoing measures being taken to protect the community in response to COVID-19.

“Our hope is to have those impacted community members rejoin our work as soon as possible. We are making these decisions — and others like them, if we have to — thoughtfully and compassionately, as we seek to protect the institution and its capacity to serve for the long term,” Capilouto said. “We will communicate with all those impacted — and our entire community — transparently at each step of the way.”

At UK HealthCare, some employees may be furloughed for as little as one week, while others could see it last for 10 weeks, through July 4, said Dr. Mark Newman, UK’s executive vice president for health affairs.

UK HealthCare says they spent $20 million preparing for COVID-19 in the last several weeks, including the creation of drive-through testing, a robust tele-health initiative and the conducting of more than 3,000 coronavirus tests thus far, among other measures.

However, as a result of suspending elective surgeries and procedures for the last several weeks to prepare for more virus-related patients, outpatient volumes at UK HealthCare were down 45 percent percent in April, while inpatient visits for the month are down 34 percent, Newman said.

“These were necessary and vital actions to heal and help across the Commonwealth, but the result is that work in many valued units has virtually halted,” Newman said. “Our first priority, always, is to protect our patients and our people.  We have done that. But part of ensuring that priority long term is protecting our financial future as well.

“These measures are designed to help position for the future as we emerge from this public health crisis.”

UK officials announced on Thursday that they will furlough around 1,700 employees. (Kentucky Today photo)

As part of the plan, employees impacted may elect to use accrued vacation, holiday or bonus leave. When that is exhausted, they may transition to furlough status, and be able to apply for unemployment.

During the furlough period, UK/UKHC will pay both the employer and employee portion of health benefits premiums for up to 90 days or until the employee returns to work.  Sick and vacation time will continue to accrue.  The officials will continue to look for areas of work that can be performed to bring employees back as soon as possible.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear said the state is very close to putting out guidelines for the gradual re-opening of non-emergency hospital and other healthcare services, starting next Monday.

“Phase one will re-start diagnostic radiology, non-emergent in-person and office ambulatory visits,” Beshear said. “We believe that is the right place to start as we begin to ramp up. We’re also going to allow pre-anesthesia testing services to re-start, in preparation for the surgical ramp up.”

He said they hope to announce weekly more expansions of services and to eventually get to elective procedures.

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