HCMC cuts support staff, closes Downtown pool

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July 21, 2003 // UPDATED 10:59 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) closed its therapy pool (used by some Downtown residents), eliminated medical library staff and dramatically scaled back social workers and chaplains -- but so far has spared direct-care staff from cuts, said Administrator Jeff Spartz.

HCMC -- run by the Hennepin County Board -- cut its $420 million-plus budget by approximately $8 million in 2003, as part of the countywide belt-tightening due to state budget cuts. Fully phased-in in 2004, the cuts will save $11 million.

The hospital and clinics cut 189 of its 3,800 full-time staff equivalents, or 5 percent. Some of the eliminated positions already were vacant through attrition. Some staff took incentives to resign or retire. An added 44 took internal transfers. Only 12 staff were laid off, said Tom Hayes, HCMC spokesman.

The hospital closed the pool patients used for injury rehabilitation, a savings of less than $100,000, Spartz said. The cut also nicked Downtown residents, he noted.

"It was one of those things that we could not figure out how to get to break even," Spartz said. "The employees used it. The neighbors used it. Some of our most irritated people are people from the neighborhood who would use it during open hours -- pay $3 and swim."

HCMC saved substantially more -- $750,000 -- from its chaplain expenses. "Most of the chaplains are gone," Spartz said. "I believe we had 15 and we are down to two or three."

HCMC, a teaching hospital, cut roughly $500,000 from its medical library, he said. Medical students still can use the library 24 hours a day, seven days a week, "they just won't have people to assist them," Spartz said.

HCMC also cut social workers by $500,000 to $1 million, Spartz said, but it made many of its other cuts in small ways, reduced travel budgets, furniture budgets and contracted services, what he described as "$50,000 here and $100,000 there."

"We reduced maintenance services. Instead of getting my office cleaned once a week, it's cleaned twice a month," he said.

An itemized list of cuts was not immediately available.

HCMC currently is putting together its 2004 budget, assuming it will need to cut $5 million more, Spartz said.

One of the big unknowns is how cuts to state health care programs will affect demand for services at HCMC, which serves indigent people.