SAINTHOOD ELLUDES THIS THOMAS" AUGUST 2004
As many as 300 to 500 Saint Thomas employees face layoffs while their well-paid boss says he's "praying" for them By Matt Pulle
**Before the nonprofit Saint
Thomas held a series of meetings last week about the possibility of imminent mass layoffs Saint Thomas Health Services CEO Thomas Beeman penned a message to his staff. "It is my intent, each day, to pray for all of you," he wrote in a company newsletter. "Pray each day for each other. In your prayers, I hope you will ask for God's guidance to assure that we are continuing to work within His will." They're going to need all the help they can get. That's because Saint Thomas may "right-size" its payroll. Last week, hospital president Deb German led a round of in-house meetings during which she noted that because of flat revenues and declining patient volumes, the hospital would be looking at reducing staff-to-patient ratios from six-to-one to five-to-one. That could mean pink slips for 300 to 500
employees-making it the largest area hospital layoff in recent memory. Hospital officials, however, are considering reducing overtime pay and eliminating unfilled positions to help offset layoffs. Saint Thomas spokeswoman Rebecca Climer would not confirm or deny the number of projected layoffs, but did acknowledge that the hospital is looking at "a number of different alternatives."
As German, however, tried to put a happy spin on her report-"Saint Thomas is going to be fine," she concluded-employees kept asking her why, in a time of belt-tightening, the hospital paid to be a sponsor of the Swan Ball, the glitzy fundraiser for Cheekwood. (The cost was $5,000.) A few employees also wondered if the hospital paid for Beeman's ticket to the event, but Saint Thomas says that its executive paid the cost of admission himself.
As the president and CEO of Saint Thomas Health Services, Beeman presides over five hospitals, including Saint Thomas and Baptist. It's not an easy job, and now, as Saint Thomas, the flagship hospital in the chain, heads into an uncertain period, Beeman has become something of a lighting rod. During employee meetings and over coffee breaks, hospital workers talk disparagingly about the contradictions between his extravagant lifestyle and his frequent appeals to the religious mission of the hospital.
In the hospital's newsletter, Beeman writes, "It is, however, especially difficult for a person of faith to be in, yet not of, the world we live in."
He's right about that. As staffers point out, the CEO drives three cars, two of which are reportedly a Mercedes and one a Volvo convertible. Saint Thomas acknowledges picking up a portion of the purchase price of one of Beeman's automobiles, although hospital officials don't specify which one.
Then, last year, as the hospital was cutting benefits for its employees, Saint Thomas shelled out in the neighborhood of $35,000 for Beeman to join the Belle Made Country Club, where Climer says he often holds hospital-related meetings. They also pay for his $4,200 annual membership fees and a required annual assessment fee. These sorts of benefits don't sit well with employees at Saint Thomas Hospital, who feel that their facility has suffered the lion's share of the hospital chain's recent cutbacks. In addition, Beeman's constant reminders of the hospital's religious mission don't seem to square with his subsidized country club membership. In one memo, in which he discusses the difficulties of ensuring that all five of the hospitals under the Saint Thomas umbrella work together, he writes, "Can all of our associates collaborate in a common ministry-the healing ministry of Jesus?" By industry standards, Beeman's annual salary, just under $560,000, isn't extravagant. By comparison, Harry Jacobson, the vice chancellor for health affairs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, earns over $1 million, according to tax documents. Then again, as one employee told the Scene, Vanderbilt isn't laying off employees. Meanwhile, Saint Thomas Hospital itself has fallen on hard times. During employee meetings last week, German said that while Saint Thomas Health Service's market share remains stable, admissions for all area hospitals dropped by about 20 percent last year. She told workers that in May, Saint Thomas lost $1.5 million. A month later, the hospital lost another half a million dollars.
"If we keep doing what we do, we're going to keep getting what we get," German said, according to a tape of one of the meetings. German cited a number of reasons for declining revenues. Inpatient procedures are shifting to the outpatient arena, and expenses are increasing while reimbursement for medical care is declining. According to one employee, German was reluctant to use the word "layoff" to describe Saint Thomas' plans. Instead, she used the more upbeat term "right-sizing." Naturally, morale at Saint Thomas is low. Layoffs are expected next month, and few employees outside of the emergency room are safe. "Hospital inpatient volumes are down across the state," spokeswoman Rebecca Climer writes in an e-mail. "This requires that adjustments be made, and those are designed to bring Saint Thomas Hospital to a level where it had been...."
Climer writes that the hospital is examining a number of different alternatives. For now, though, all employees can do is take their boss's advice and pray.