70-80 employees impacted; Noyes adjusts to changing state policy

DANSVILLE — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he will allow some New York hospitals to resume elective procedures, provided they are outside of the New York City area and not in a county likely to experience a COVID-19 surge.

The news was a welcome development for UR Medicine | Noyes Health in Dansville, which has furloughed employees over the last two weeks as revenues dropped 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state's new policy comes after Cuomo halted all elective procedures March 22, causing a major drop in revenue for hospitals in some areas of the state that have yet to be hit hard by the novel coronavirus.

The financial strain impacted Noyes Health significantly.

Two weeks ago, Noyes began to furlough some employees across all departments. Generally, employees will be furloughed on a rolling basis, the hospital said, and determinations on when to return to work are being made weekly. Between 70 and 80 employees are impacted at this time. Noyes leadership staff have also taken voluntary pay cuts. Furloughs allow employees to remain in an “employed” status with continued benefits, with the intent that they will return to their job when conditions permit.

“Noyes staff have undertaken every challenge thrown at them in this short time, with an understanding that these are the things we need to do to take care of our community,” said Noyes President and CEO Amy Pollard. “I am humbled by their dedication and grateful for their ongoing efforts.”

With all implemented safety measures remaining in place, Noyes is beginning to reach out to patients to schedule postponed surgeries and procedures in anticipation of resuming programs on a rolling basis. Noyes also encouraged patients to reach out to their healthcare provider if they are in need of help with any medical issue.

“Our patients have put off needed care,” explained Pollard. “We want to assure them that it’s safe to seek the help they need, and that we are ready to help them.”

In the last six weeks, as the COVID pandemic unfolded, Noyes worked in coordination with its UR Medicine partners to prepare for a surge of patients. It quickly halted all elective surgeries and routine procedures of a non-critical nature, both at the hospital in Dansville and at the ambulatory surgery center in Geneseo in line with state policy.

“We also began limiting in-person visits to our outpatient clinics - orthopedics, general surgery, physical therapy, primary care, mental health - turning instead to online or telephonic consults. That is a dramatic shift in the way we have delivered care in the past,” Pollard said. “Following federal and state guidelines, we increased infection control measures and reallocated and refocused resources in terms of equipment and staff to respond to the pandemic.”

Cuomo announced the change in policy at his daily coronavirus briefing, which he held Tuesday at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo.

Several hospital organizations across upstate New York have instituted layoffs or furloughs during the coronavirus outbreak, like Noyes, particularly those in areas that haven't seen many cases and have kept beds empty in anticipation of a surge.

When Cuomo first instituted a ban on elective procedures, the idea was to keep capacity open for coronavirus patients and preserve personal protective equipment for hospital workers on the front lines.

“In normal times, hospitals, particularly in rural and semi-rural areas, operate with razor-thin margins,” Pollard said. “Clearly, the preparation we’ve done to be able to accept and treat COVID-positive patients and COVID-suspect patients, along with reductions in non-urgent visits and procedures, has led to a decrease in revenue. Since the COVID emergency began, Noyes revenues are about 50% lower than budgeted.

“Noyes, like other hospitals in the area, is making difficult decisions in light of these shortfalls in revenue, at least in the short term, and Noyes leadership is working closely with the management team to identify areas where savings are possible.”

Cuomo's policy shift comes as the state remains the epicenter of the country's coronavirus outbreak, though the vast majority of the state's cases and deaths are centered in the New York City area.

As of Tuesday, 251,690 people tested positive for COVID-19 in New York. Of those, 14,828 people died, including 481 in the prior day, according to Cuomo.