PeaceHealth shuffles jobs as it streamlines

IT leader positions to be relocated to local headquarters

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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PeaceHealth will cut 45 jobs from its information-technology staff and relocate another eight from other regions to its headquarters in Vancouver as part of its ongoing effort to streamline administrative support functions for medical services.

The elimination of IT positions will affect PeaceHealth's operations in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. None are happening at the health-care company's "shared services center" in east Vancouver, where PeaceHealth is consolidating its corporate headquarters and back-office operations.

By 2017, PeaceHealth expects to station 800 workers at its centralized Vancouver location. It now has about 350.

"We're not on a systemwide mission to reduce (full-time positions)," said Peter Adler, senior vice president for strategy, innovation and development for the Catholic-based nonprofit. "We are in the process of creating our single, consolidated service center in Vancouver, which is Vancouver's net gain."

However, that gain comes at a loss of jobs in other cities in which PeaceHealth has operations. Yet the move to cut costs and boost efficiency isn't unique to PeaceHealth. Other health-care organizations are taking similar actions amid drawn-out economic weakness and pressure from health-care reform to curb costs and provide better care.

Positions left vacant

At PeaceHealth, 23 of the 45 positions that will be cut had been left vacant. And PeaceHealth has no immediate plans to fill them.

"We left them vacant to be able to do fewer reductions in (the) workforce," said Tamera Bhatti, PeaceHealth's human resources director in Vancouver.

The rest -- 22 jobs -- are slated to be eliminated. PeaceHealth officials said they'll try to make those reductions through attrition and placing workers in other jobs at the organization. Meanwhile, eight information-technology leadership positions will be relocated to Vancouver by 2014, according to PeaceHealth documents obtained by The Columbian. Those positions may be filled by PeaceHealth employees from Eugene, Ore., Longview, and Bellingham.

A July report conducted for PeaceHealth by Maestro Strategies says the health care organization "has significantly more total (information technology full-time equivalents)" than other comparative staffing levels.

Kevin Lamb, a PeaceHealth system manager of marketing and communications, said IT staffing moves are aimed at creating the right number of IT positions that best serves the nonprofit's care and organizational goals.

"We haven't done a good job of doing that over the years," Lamb said, which is why PeaceHealth has "twice the IT staff" compared to comparable organizations.

As of March, PeaceHealth had 383 full-time equivalent positions in information technology. The organization wants to bring that workforce down to about 338. That's a reduction of about 45 full-time equivalent positions.

And that reduction would shave about $8 million in salary and benefits from the nonprofit's IT payroll.

A 'growth corridor'

Another reason PeaceHealth is reshuffling its information-technology staff has to do with its larger move to relocate some jobs to Vancouver to position itself for future growth.

Adler said U.S. Census data project that Southwest Washington will be a "growth corridor" over the next 10 years. As a result, PeaceHealth, which employs a total of about 16,500 people, is reallocating administrative staff, including information-technology workers, to Vancouver.

PeaceHealth isn't the only health care system looking to eliminate certain positions to trim costs.

In February, for example, Clark County's Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center eliminated 30 jobs as part of a broader cost-cutting move to deal with the impacts of reduced Medicaid payments and a weak economy.

Most of the job cuts came from the Salmon Creek facility's nonclinical staff, including administrative, information and registration services, food services and gift shop employees.

The cuts were part of 362 layoffs made in Oregon and Southwest Washington by Portland-based Legacy Health System.

PeaceHealth's staffing moves come nearly two years after it finalized a merger with Vancouver-based Southwest Washington Medical Center, launching a nonprofit health system straddling Washington, Oregon and Alaska with an operating budget of about $2.3 billion.

In August, PeaceHealth announced yet more change, saying it will form a partnership with Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives that will create a regional health care system with operations based in Vancouver.

The deal -- expected to be completed before June 30, 2013 -- will combine seven Catholic Health Initiatives hospitals in Washington and Oregon with nine PeaceHealth hospitals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

The new organization will have revenues of nearly $4 billion, nearly 26,000 employees and about 950 employed physicians.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.