Many Orlando Health workers are distressed by the news of cutbacks that will hit their pockets hard.
This week, the eight-hospital health system notified night-shift workers that their "differential" pay would be trimmed by several dollars an hour. Some of those rates will be cut by more than half — from nearly $10 extra an hour to less than $5, according to letters nurses received from the hospital system.
The across-the-board cuts, which take effect Sept. 8, amount to a salary reduction of as much as 20 percent for workers, the letters show. Meanwhile, the hospital has raised its cafeteria prices, reduced the tuition-reimbursement benefit and cut hours.
Orlando Health officials say the move is part of a restructuring that began in November, when the health system announced it would eliminate up to 500 positions from its workforce of 16,000, and that cuts would affect all eight hospitals and all departments.
The hospital system — which reported an $8.1 million loss last quarter, and reported losing money for four of the past five quarters — says the cuts are necessary. The change in differential pay puts Orlando Health in line with the median pay of other hospitals in the Southeast, hospital officials say.
One nurse, who has worked for Orlando Regional Medical Center for more than a decade, is having her "differential pay" cut by nearly $15,000 a year — reducing her annual pay from $65,000 to $50,000 — under what the hospital is calling its "Value Creation" program.
"It's creating value for her," the nurse said of Orlando Health CEO Sherrie Sitarik, citing the administrator's seven-figure compensation and recent luxury vacation to Bermuda.
The nurse, like other Orlando Health workers, talked to the Sentinel on the condition that her name not be used because she feared losing her job.
"I support my family on this," she said. "I work nights so I can be home for my kids when they get home from school, and help them with homework. I tuck them in bed, then go to work."
Night-shift workers receive incentive pay on top of their base pay for their willingness to work nights. Workers also get this "differential pay" for weekend and holiday hours. Depending on the employee's tenure and credentials, the additional pay could be $3 to $13 an hour on top of base pay.
"We get incentive pay to work nights because many people won't work that shift," said the nurse.
"We are nurses because we love being nurses," she said. "But I have patients spitting on me and hitting on me. I'm exposed to HIV and other health risks. We work harder at night because the support staff has all gone home, and you're telling me I'm not worth what I've been making?"
In addition to the cut in pay, workers are seeing their hours cut, too. One employee whose differential pay dropped from $9.75 to $4 an hour also has seen her hours decrease from between 32 and 36 hours a week to sometimes as few as 28 hours.
Another nurse said her hourly pay for night work was decreasing from $30.75 an hour to $25, while her weekly hours had been cut by 4 to 6 hours.
Both worry that the trimmed hours could result in them losing health benefits.
"Not true," said Orlando Health spokeswoman Kena Lewis. "An employee would have to change status — and that's a job change — before losing benefits. Even if a full-time employee flexes down to 28 hours a week, they would still get benefits."
Hit 'from every angle'
Another veteran nurse doesn't know how much less she'll be making "because I didn't do the math. I didn't have the stomach."
When she opened the letter stating that her differential pay would go from $10 to $4, the single mom said, "I sat at my kitchen table and cried."
That $6-an-hour pay cut is on top of the tuition reimbursement the hospital reduced earlier this year. A registered nurse working toward her bachelor's in nursing, the longtime employee said the hospital had paid $3,500 in tuition reimbursement, but now will only pay $2,500.
"No way will I be able to do that now," she said.
Meanwhile cafeteria prices have increased by as much as 20 percent, according to a company memo.
"They're hitting us from every angle," one nurse said.
In addition to the pay cuts, the nurses reported that three pharmacists and at least seven respiratory therapists were laid off recently.
"We are undergoing a long-term process to reduce expenses and increase revenues," said Lewis. "That process includes many initiatives, some of which have just occurred: cafeteria price increases, changes to differential, and reductions in tuition reimbursement, and they will include adjusting our staff as needed."
Though hospital officials would not disclose the number of recent layoffs, Lewis acknowledged that some workers had been laid off this summer, and there may be more layoffs to come.
Among the hospitals in Orlando Health's network are Orlando Regional Medical Center, Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Children, Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital and Health Central in Ocoee.
"Maybe I could swallow this horrible pill if Sherrie Sitarik wouldn't show up in Facebook posts on a vacation with her family in Bermuda," said one nurse, who is wondering how she will make ends meet on less.
Sitarik's Bermuda trip a week before the cutbacks were announced was not paid for by Sitarik nor by Orlando Health, said Lewis. The VHA, a supply-chain management service that serves a national network of not-for-profit health organizations, paid for Sitarik and her husband's trip.
Sitarik and her husband paid for their adult daughter, an Orlando Health employee, to join them. The daughter posted the Facebook photos: Under one of Sitarik and her daughter, the caption reads, "…thanks for having a meeting in Bermuda."
The timing of the Bermuda vacation "shows a remarkable insensitivity to the rank and file's financial plight," said health-care analyst Brian Klepper, principal of a Longwood-based company that helps businesses save on health care.
"It has to do with not only questionable professional decorum, but also with being out of touch because you're wealthy and they're not," he said. "This sort of behavior is way too common in an industry that is still flush with money."
Regardless of who paid for the trip, the behavior "is not very leaderly," Klepper said. "Leadership is about not being aloof, and about showing empathy all the time. That's why you get paid the big bucks."
Sitarik's total compensation last year, according to Lewis, was $1,120,633. Tax documents from 2011 show her compensation that year was about $1 million.
Lowest pay in years
"Most of us work nights to make the rest of our life work," said one nurse who expects her income to decrease about $12,000 as a result of the cutbacks. "If we didn't do it, who would?"
For one Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital nurse, making $5 less an hour will mean taking home about $800 less a month, she said, or about $10,000 less a year.
"It's the lowest my salary has been in five years," said the single mom, who said she will start looking for a second job.
Other workers she knows are planning to leave. "Lots are looking for new work," she said. "The hospital is about to lose some really good nurses."
The changes are tough, Lewis acknowledged, "but cutting our differential structure is preferable to more layoffs."
"This is the new normal," said Lewis, "and this is not just us. Hospitals all over the country have to become leaner and more efficient. And we are on that path."
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