Alaska hospital warns of layoffs after ‘devastating’ revenue loss due to pandemic

Credit Greg Kim / KYUK

A dramatic drop in patient visits has plunged the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation into a steep financial decline. The organization’s leadership warns that the large revenue loss could soon lead to furloughs and layoffs.

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On Monday, April 6, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced the first case of COVID-19 in the region. Two days later, on Wednesday, April 8, YKHC employees received an email from YKHC CEO and President Dan Winkelman, warning that some of them could soon lose their jobs. “The pandemic,” he wrote, “is devastating our financials.”

Few people are seeking health care. Winkelman wrote that patient visits have dropped by 70 percent. More than half of YKHC’s revenue comes from Medicaid, and the State of Alaska has canceled essential Medicaid travel from most villages. Normal appointments are not happening either, as the hospital has suspended elective procedures and optometry and dental visits. YKHC began telemedicine, but usage has been “low,” he said. To bring in the few patients who do come to Bethel, YKHC is having to pay for expensive charters due to cuts in air service.

These hard economic times are occurring despite YKHC receiving funding from the CARES Act. Winkelman said that the funds will only cover “several weeks” of operation. Winkelman wrote that if patient numbers do not ”substantially increase over the next couple of weeks, YKHC will be forced to reduce our expenses significantly – which means a furlough and/or a reduction in force.”

YKHC would not talk to KYUK about this financial situation, or provide more details about potential job losses.

In his email to employees, Winkelman thanked the staff for their months of preparing YKHC to respond to the pandemic. He also wrote that if a surge of COVID-19 patients occurs, “we will have much more work to do and it will be an all hands on deck approach.”

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Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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