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Hospital work force shrank in 2008

WILLMAR -- At the start of 2008, Rice Memorial Hospital had 851 workers on its payroll. By the end of the year, layoffs and cutbacks had reduced the work force to 818, the smallest it has been in at least a decade.

Since 2005, the city-owned hospital has shed almost 70 jobs, or around 8 percent of the total work force. The biggest loss came last year, with 42 layoffs over the course of the year.

It was a challenging year for Rice, said Joyce Elkjer, director of human resources.

"It was difficult on all of staff... It was a tough time," she said.

Elkjer presented work force data last week to the Rice Hospital Board of Directors.

Rice hasn't been alone in having to cut its staff. Many hospitals around Minnesota are faced with similar decisions as their reimbursement tightens and patient volume slows.

"That was the reality we faced and we had to face it head on," Elkjer said. "By year end, employees had embraced that this is the new norm."

The turnover rate at the hospital was pushed up to more than 15 percent last year.

In 2008, the average employee of Rice Hospital and the Rice Care Center was just under 45 years old and had held his or her job for 12 years. The average worker also was likely to be female; women make up 85.5 percent of Rice's overall work force.

The total payroll last year for Rice Hospital and the Rice Care Center was $39.7 million. The hospital's 466 volunteers also contributed more than 30,000 hours.

One of the largest changes this past year, other than staff cutbacks, was the transition of medical imaging and radiation oncology staff into the new Willmar Medical Services joint venture with Affiliated Community Medical Centers. Willmar Medical Services now employs these workers.

The transition was accomplished over 18 months, Elkjer said.

"There was so much work done," she said. "Employees were communicated with all along the way."

During 2008, Rice Hospital also provided internships and clinical experiences to 421 students in the health care professions, ranging from nursing students to future doctors and pharmacists.