No stranger to employment loss, Jacksonville shows support to those affected by changes
by Julie Gerke
The community is rallying behind local leadership and remaining staff at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital, where the doors remain open despite fewer familiar faces.
An unspecified number of JMH staff lost their jobs as part of a system-wide restructuring, according to a statement issued last week by Memorial Health Systems of Springfield. The company blamed higher costs for supplies, equipment and temporary labor, and “shifting trends in payer reimbursements” that are “negatively affecting the healthcare industry.”
At JMH, the changes include the scheduled closure of the transitional care unit. The staff and program cuts also affect Memorial hospitals in Springfield, Taylorville, Lincoln and Decatur. In addition to its five hospitals, Memorial Health also offers primary and specialty care, urgent care clinics, behavioral health and other services.
“My thoughts are with the people losing their jobs and hopefully the community will understand and be there for them,” Missy Naeve of Jacksonville told The Source Newspaper. “The people who are keeping their jobs … I hope to get the idea out it’s not their fault.
“They are wonderful people doing their jobs.”
Naeve was among hundreds of people who took to social media to voice concern, frustration and hurt about the changes, and to support those left to staff the 175-year-old local hospital. Among offers of job references and nursing positions at schools and nursing homes, there were also words of support for JMH President Trevor Huffman, who has been part of the local hospital since 1998.
At least two local businesses also are extending help: Jax Yoga Studio and Wellness Collective is offering free yoga sessions to any JMH staffer who lost their job, for as long as needed. Fitness World Health Club & Sports Complex said any JMH employee will have free access to its group fitness classes. “Thank you for all your hard work,” the announcement reads. “This community appreciates everything you do.”
Jax Yoga owner Wendy Smith, a former health educator at then-named Passavant, was at JMH Tuesday and said, “The mood and the energy there was so heavy. … It’s a huge loss.”
Last year, JMH was restructured as a “critical access hospital” (as are the Lincoln and Taylorville sites) — defined as a medical center that provides healthcare services to rural, often underserved communities. Usually, those areas have fewer people but a higher number of underinsured or uninsured people and older adults.
Among other qualifications, the site must be more than 35 miles from any other hospital, maintain no more than 25 inpatient beds, and have stays of no longer than 96 hours.
Memorial leaders said the cuts affect about 20% of the system’s administrative team, and represent 5% of the system’s salary and benefits.
In its statement this week, Memorial did not share exact numbers of affected employees, at which facility they worked or the dollar amount of savings the cuts would bring to each facility. In its Hospital CFO Report posted Wednesday, Beckershospitalreview.com said Memorial has almost 10,000 employees across Illinois.
Documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service and posted by ProPublica, a Chicago-based nonprofit investigative journalism program, showed Memorial Health reported $1.44 billion in revenue and $1.34 billion in expenses in its 2021 group return. That return also listed Edgar Curtis’ overall compensation as $2.57 million for his work as system president/CEO and board member of Memorial Physician Services.
In 2019, when he was president/CEO of Memorial Health and president of Memorial Medical Center, Curtis earned $10.9 million, with $8.6 million reported as deferred, documents showed.
Along with the shock that came with unexpected job losses for coworkers, their friends and family members, social media commenters were especially hurt with the imminent closure of the TCU — an award-winning unit that allowed patients to regain strength and mobility.
“One thing that was really sad for me was the [loss of] the transitional care unit,” Naeve said. “That’s a huge loss. … What are people going to do?”
The transitional care unit at Jacksonville Memorial will remain open until Sept. 30, and current patients will remain until they can be safely discharged, Memorial Health said. TCU was listed as a “best nursing home” by U.S. News & World Report for 2022-23, putting it among the top 38 of all nursing facilities of Illinois out of 703 total nursing homes.
Except for changes during the pandemic, TCU offered individual rooms but communal dining and rehab opportunities as patients recovered from surgeries or longer-term stays and needed to regain their strength before going home or to a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Memorial spokeswoman Angie Muhs said the TCU decision was based on “our need to focus resources on our core mission, particularly services that are not available elsewhere in Morgan County. The Jacksonville community has multiple resources offering similar types of transitional healthcare services, and JMH will continue to assist patients and families in finding appropriate post-discharge care.”
For Smith and others in the community, the changes hit on a personal level. In addition to her own time at Passavant, Smith’s mother was a nurse for years at Passavant and her sister is a pediatric physical therapist at Springfield Memorial.
“This decision doesn’t change the character that has always been [at JMH] despite what’s happening at the top,” Smith said. “The character of the people at that hospital has always been of the earth.”
Memorial Health, federally registered as a nonprofit organization, became part of the Jacksonville landscape in 2014, when it absorbed Passavant Area Hospital. The Memorial system has had other layoffs in the last several years; the latest cuts come amidst several other for-profit and nonprofit hospital chains across the country also making reductions.
“Just being born and raised here, and my parents here, almost every time you’re out there and start talking [to people], you can find a connection [with staff],” Naeve said. “I’m sad for all the employees who had poured their blood, sweat and tears into there and maybe thought that’s where they would retire … and then they were kind of blindsided. I feel really bad for them, with inflation so high and groceries so high and not having a job to pay for that stuff.”
Help and guidance for job seekers is available at Illinois WorkNet Center, 1300 S. Ninth St., Springfield, or at Illinoisworknet.com. Memorial tax documents are available at propublica.org/. Individual ratings for Illinois hospitals are available at healthcarereportcard.illinois.gov.