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Did Ballad really 'net new jobs' in nursing?

Zach Vance • May 16, 2018 at 11:48 PM

New people, not new jobs.

When Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine tweeted last week to celebrate the hiring of 255 new nursing graduates, he included the note “105 NET NEW JOBS.”

“A GREAT OUTCOME. While @BalladHealth reduced 150 mostly administrative positions last month, we also HIRED 255 new graduate nurses, who are now beginning work. 105 NET NEW JOBS. As we said we’d do,” Levine wrote while tagging local media outlets in his tweet.

While Ballad Health certainly hired 255 new graduate nurses for a net gain of current employment, no new jobs were created or netted, as indicated in the tweet.

On Wednesday, responding to a Johnson City Press inquiry, a Ballad Health spokeswoman clarified that the figure Levine referenced in his tweet was net new hires filling existing vacancies.

“When Alan (Levine) announced the reduction in administrative costs through elimination of 150 duplicative positions, he also noted we had more than 350 nursing positions we were continuing to attempt to fill. We filled 265 of these positions with new graduates, which is something to celebrate, given the increasing shortage of nurses and intense competition for nurses,” an earlier statement from Ballad Health said.

“In addition to the 1,000 administrative jobs that would have been lost had we not merged, it is difficult to tell how many more jobs would have been lost in hospitals, given the increased financial losses we have seen in many of the rural hospitals, and the increasing frequency of closures of rural hospitals.

“The merger saved more jobs and allowed us the opportunity to reduce costly administrative duplication. This is what we have been saying all along, and most people would agree that reducing administrative duplication while investing in more clinical staff is the right policy.”

Last month, in the wake of the Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System merger,  Ballad Health officials eliminated 199 predominately administrative positions, 150 of which were occupied, to reduce duplication within the organization.

Levine seemingly got the 105 “net new jobs” figure by subtracting the 255 new hires from the 150 occupied positions that were eliminated, but based on those figures, there was no actual net gain of new jobs at Ballad Health.

Unless Ballad Health has created new positions within the organization since closing the merger, the hospital system has actually netted a loss of 199 positions within the organization, because the 255 nurse openings were not newly-created positions.

A spokeswoman for Ballad Health did not respond when a Johnson City Press reporter asked about the number of newly created positions since the merger.

Since the merger closed in late January, Ballad Health has hired 365 new nurses, including the 255 new graduates, but again, those new hires were for existing positions that had previously been unfilled.

Speaking to the Johnson City Press last week about the influx of new hires, Ballad Health Chief Human Resources Officer Debbie Dover said 265 new graduates is consistent with the number of graduate nurses Mountain States and Wellmont had collectively hired in previous years.

Levine was on Twitter Wednesday afternoon celebrating his new hires, writing “It’s always great to welcome our new nurses! 265 new grads that could have gone anywhere but chose @BalladHealth. And 100 experienced RNs hired. Fantastic!!”

The Certificate of Public Advantage with the state of Tennessee, which allowed Mountain States and Wellmont to merge, does not include any language mandating Ballad Health maintain a specific number of employee positions.

Under the COPA, however, Ballad is required to spend $70 million over a 10-year period to implement an “equalization plan” that eliminates differences in salaries, pay rates and employee benefits among employees from both legacy systems.

The COPA’s terms do prevent Ballad from terminating or transferring any “rural” hospital employee within the 24 months following the merger, unless there is a case for cause. 

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