AVH handbook changes were out of line
Ouch.Aspen Valley Hospital continues to bleed, and now its reputation as an employer is in critical condition.As if laying off 34 employees with hundreds of years of experience at the hospital weren’t enough of a blow, it came to light recently that hospital management revised the employee handbook shortly before the layoffs and severely cut the severance packages of the departing employees.If the revisions had concerned policies on breaks, vacations, sick days or other standard employee benefits, they might not be such a big deal. Such changes would have likely occurred without ever appearing on the public radar. In fact, this latest wound to the hospital’s reputation would likely have gone unnoticed but for the courage of Cathy Zimmer, a 13-year employee who stepped up before the board on Monday, June 14, to protest the move.Under the old handbook, Zimmer explained, she would have received a severance amounting to 12 weeks of pay. Under the revised version, however, she received just two weeks’ worth. Thirteen years of service? Two weeks of severance?Yes, the hospital is digging out of a deep financial hole. But two weeks’ severance? Come on.Two weeks of pay at most jobs won’t cover much more than the mortgage payment and a trip to the grocery store. These people were not laid off because they did anything wrong. They did not deserve to be punished. They were let go simply because they happened to have the wrong job on that fateful day.No doubt the hospital saved tens of thousands of dollars by gutting the severance packages of the affected workers, and we recognize that cutting expenses is vital to AVH’s survival. Board members and administrators deserve credit, in fact, for the recent reported turnaround in AVH’s financial position.This particular move appears to have been legal, but we share new board member Barry Mink’s concern about it.Simply put, to quietly cut – by 84 percent – the severance packages of 34 employees just three weeks before they were terminated seems, well, nasty. And it undermines hospital officials’ professed feelings of concern for those who lost their jobs. This action was not in keeping with the mission or conduct of a community hospital.
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