More than 30,000 in Virginia health care industry laid off amid pandemic

More than 30,000 in Virginia health care industry laid off amid pandemic
The layoffs include practitioners like doctors, dentists and chiropractors as well as support workers like massage therapists, orderlies, assistants and home health aides. (Source: pixabay)

When layoffs began to surge amid widespread business closures in Virginia, service workers were among the first and hardest hit, initially accounting for more than 50 percent of requests for unemployment benefits.

But as the shutdown of normal life has dragged on, workers in more and more industries have faced layoffs. And perhaps counterintuitively, that includes more than 30,000 health care workers, according to data released Thursday by the Virginia Employment Commission.

The trend is playing out around the country as the healthcare apparatus shifts into emergency mode to respond to COVID-19. Elective procedures and surgeries have been halted to conserve supplies of personal protective equipment and some health care providers have decided on their own to stop scheduling routine appointments.

The layoffs include practitioners like doctors, dentists and chiropractors as well as support workers like massage therapists, orderlies, assistants and home health aides.

So far, at least two hospital groups in the state have announced furloughs of workers. Ballad Health in Southwest Virginia said between 200 to 250 of its workers in the state are being furloughed for at least two months. Bon Secours, which operates hospitals and medical practices in Richmond and Hampton Roads, announced furloughs they say will last between 30 to 90 days. The company did not release Virginia specific numbers.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association said hospitals were already facing significant financial pressures before the pandemic hit last month. It now estimates hospitals in the state will lose $600 million in the 30 day period between late March and late April.

“At the same time that hospitals are investing more and more resources in acquiring the necessary supplies and equipment to meet these growing treatment needs,” said Julian Walker, a spokesman for the association. “You also have them forgoing considerable revenue that’s essential to keep their operations functioning. So they’re sacrificing even at a time when they’re investing more to respond to COVID-19.”

Overall, the food industry has still seen the largest number of unemployment claims, accounting for 58,000 of the roughly 300,000 applications the state has received since layoffs began to spike in late March. Other particularly hard-hit occupations include personal care and service, office and administrative support, sales, management and transportation.

A total of nearly 150,000 workers applied for unemployment benefits in Virginia last week, up from about 115,000 the week prior — record numbers in a state that typically saw weekly claims hover around 2,000.

The week-over-week increase is the fifth highest in the country, but the Unemployment Commission said in a news release that the state also showed “one of the most rapid slow-downs in the rate of growth” which they said “may indicate a deceleration, or ‘flattening of the curve,’ after late-March’s steep trajectory of weekly increases.”

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.