Apr 6, 2020 - Health

The health care workers who are losing their jobs

Illustration of a hand cutting a stethoscope with a pair of scissors.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The health care system cut 42,500 jobs in March as the coronavirus epidemic forced providers to delay an array of nonurgent procedures and doctor visits, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The big picture: Almost all of the lost jobs came in medical offices and other outpatient settings, but many people who are fighting the coronavirus in hospitals are seeing cutbacks, too.

Driving the news: 96% of the axed health care jobs in March are on the outpatient side. Those are places like dentists' offices, physicians' clinics, speech therapy and vision centers. Hospitals did not net any job losses, according to BLS.

  • The federal government told health care providers to put off visits or procedures that weren't necessary — so it's logical that outpatient areas are the main source of job loss.

Yes, but: Hospital workers, including clinicians who could be treating coronavirus patients, have not been immune to furloughs and layoffs.

  • Bon Secours Mercy Health, a multistate, tax-exempt hospital system, furloughed all staff who are not involved with COVID-19 care. The system sat on a $4 billion "operating reserve" fund as of December.
  • ER staffing firms, including Envision Healthcare, are cutting pay and benefits of their workers, ProPublica reported.
  • A small Kentucky hospital furloughed a quarter of its staff, highlighting the acute financial pressures that small and safety-net hospitals face.
  • Some of the laid-off health care workers are outpatient physician assistants, who are trained as generalists and can be repurposed to help out in hospitals if more states relax physician supervision guidelines, said Jonathan Sobel, a physician assistant director at Northwell Health in New York.

Go deeper: Health care's hiring boom may not help the coronavirus outbreak, since most new jobs are administrative.

Go deeper