Providence St. Joseph digital unit confirms layoffs after exec questioned on Reddit

Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health representatives confirmed layoffs of its digital unit staff following the health system's Chief Digital Officer Aaron Martin's March 15 "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, an online discussion board, GeekWire reports.

Health system representatives told GeekWire that 12 Providence digital innovation group employees were let go last November and an additional nine employees were laid off in January. DIG is a 200-person unit which designs technology to improve patient access and care at the health system. Sarah Vaezy, Providence St. Joseph Health's chief digital strategy and business development officer, told GeekWire the layoffs were a result of business reasons.

Mr. Martin, a former Amazon executive, initiated the AMA session on Reddit to engage with health IT personnel and entrepreneurs and said he was surprised by users' questions of layoffs, according to the report. Reddit users on the discussion thread also drew attention to rumors of sexism and bullying of the digital unit's female employees.

"Women were not valued. Their opinions were not valued," a former DIG employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told GeekWire. The individual said the culture described on Reddit was unique to DIG and not related to Providence St. Joseph Health as a whole, which the former employee said is "a wonderful company."

Work culture issues at DIG were intensified by the stress of healthcare innovation and adversity that can come about when employees from different backgrounds and teams begin working together, Mr. Martin said, according to the report. He also attributed high regulations within the healthcare industry as an added stressor to the tech innovation jobs.

One anonymous Reddit user wrote on the discussion thread about her experience working at DIG as a female engineer: "I had an extraordinarily hard time at DIG; it was absolutely miserable. When I told my manager that having such a confrontational environment was counterproductive, I was told I was too sensitive. After several attempts to surface the issues, I gave up and found another job. High turnover isn't just caused by market forces."

Providence's human resources team investigated complaints within DIG a year ago and found no evidence of discrimination. However, the investigation cited problems within the work culture. Mr. Martin told GeekWire DIG has taken actions to combat these issues, including forming a half-female senior leadership team, instituting a diversity and inclusion plan for hiring practices and implementing a compensation review process.

To access the full report, click here.

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