US representatives ask for layoff data from Ochsner

Two members of Congress are requesting data regarding layoffs at New Orleans-based Ochsner Health to ensure the move did not disproportionately affect women or minority communities.

U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson and Troy Carter, of Mississippi and Louisiana, respectively, penned a letter to Ochsner CEO Pete November on May 24 concerning the layoffs, which eliminated 770 positions, or about 2 percent of the health system's workforce.

"While only you can make your business decisions, historically these types of actions have disproportionately affected women, and minority communities including Black, Asian and Hispanic individuals," the representatives wrote. "We write today to ensure that the actions taken align with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, including Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, applicable labor practices and fundamental fairness."

The representatives are requesting demographics of the layoffs, including data sorted by race, gender and age; the parish of laid off employees; and downsized positions by number, classification and salary.

Mr. November responded to the concerns in his own letter on June 1, in which he says that Ochsner "went through a deliberate, organized and thorough decision-making process — including significant input from legal counsel — to ensure that all our workforce reduction decisions were based on legitimate and objective criteria tied to the business needs of the organization, and that there were no improper disparities in our workforce reduction based on race, gender, or age."

Mr. November also said the timing of the layoffs was "based on a focused plan to address operational and financial concerns," but due to a leak to a media outlet, "we accelerated our timeline by approximately a week because we felt it was important that our staff hear about this workforce reduction directly from us first. Our top priority was to focus on our team members, followed by outreach to community leaders and elected officials."

Ochsner eliminated the positions on May 11. A spokesperson told Becker's affected positions were management and primarily non-direct patient care roles. The spokesperson added that employees with active clinical credentials were offered a generous incentive package to move from largely administrative roles into full-time front-line clinical roles within the health system.

The letter from the representatives came after Louisiana state Sen. Gregory Tarver sent a letter to Mr. November May 12, expressing his concerns over nurse layoffs. In a memo to employees, Mr. November noted affected positions in management and non-direct patient care roles, and did not mention nurses specifically. 

In his June 1 letter, Mr. November said, "We are already working with many clinical employees who have expressed interest in continuing their career at Ochsner, and we have rehired a significant number of affected employees to bedside positions. Healthcare providers across America are experiencing a workforce crisis, especially in front-line nursing. We are hopeful that many impacted employees who have been in largely administrative roles will move into full-time front-line roles, and we continue to recruit for several hundred unfilled front-line nursing roles across our system. We will also continue educating and training the next generation of healthcare workers at Ochsner so that we can continue to serve the patients of our community."

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