Gail Miller and Marc Harrison: Intermountain Healthcare is protecting — not cutting — the jobs and incomes of its people during COVID-19

(File photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare) Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

Misleading reports and resulting “sky-is-falling” rumors have unnecessarily worried our staff and perplexed some members of the community. That’s unfortunate during the stress of the pandemic, because we’re actually working to reduce the worries of our team.

Intermountain Healthcare is not cutting the pay of our physicians, nurses, advanced-practice providers and other caregivers.

Several steps have been designed and are being implemented to protect the incomes and jobs of our physicians and employees. Our goal is to ensure their financial stability so they can focus on providing care to our patients and communities.

The truth of what’s happening in the new, temporary compensation model we’re using during the pandemic can be summed up in two overall facts.

First, pay for a limited number of Intermountain’s physicians will be affected because our normal patient volumes have dropped — and we’re working with those providers to protect their incomes. Here are supporting details:

  • About 2,600 physicians and advanced-practice providers work on contract-based agreements in Intermountain facilities.

  • 1,800 of those providers are paid salaries that won’t vary because they are salaries. Salaries are not dependent on the amount of care they provide.

  • 800 of those providers have volume-based contracts in which their pay increases if they provide more care and decreases if they provide less.

  • Because Intermountain has postponed elective and non-urgent procedures in order to preserve personal protective equipment and maintain clinical capacity, some of these providers are seeing 30 to 50 percent fewer patients.

  • Starting May 30, Intermountain will guarantee these providers receive no less than 85 percent of their current pay no matter how few patients they see. Their pay will return to traditional levels when COVID-19 subsides and normal volumes resume.

  • By redeploying to other areas of patient care, many will have the opportunity to make up any difference in pay. For example, many of our hospital-based providers are working in InstaCares or our telehealth service, where volumes are high.

  • The new compensation model is temporary, and was developed by Medical Group management and physician leaders for their colleagues.

Physician compensation is complex, but our plan has a clear and simple outcome. Intermountain has not cut the pay of these affected providers. Their pay is determined by the contracts they signed — but in order to protect them from the pandemic’s otherwise harsh financial impacts, they won’t make less than 85 percent of what they were paid before COVID-19 struck.

Second, protecting the jobs and incomes of all of our caregivers is our main operational goal in the pandemic. Specific details:

  • We’re redeploying employees to areas of need. For example, hospital nurses can be redeployed to areas such as screening desks, drive-thru testing sites, or telehealth centers, and they’ll continue to receive their current rate of pay.

  • If Intermountain is unable to redeploy an employee to another role, we’ll provide compensation for up to four weeks.

  • Employees can use their paid time off (PTO) to ensure they continue to be paid after the four weeks. If they use all of their PTO, Intermountain will allow them to drop below a zero balance of up to 80 hours.

  • Benefits for eligible employees won’t change during the pandemic. No one will lose benefits.

Is our plan perfect? We’re sure it isn’t, and we’ll adjust going forward as needed. We’ve never had to do anything like this before. But it’s a responsible move designed to keep people working, keep their paychecks and benefits coming, and free them from worrying about financial matters while they’re working hard to meet the needs of our patients and communities.

Contrast that with what’s happening across the country. Numerous health systems, physician practices, and hospitals have furloughed employees and announced other cuts in staffing and compensation as a result of the pandemic. National projections from the American Academy of Family Physicians, for example, predict that more than 58,000 physician practices and more than 784,000 jobs, including physician jobs, will be lost by June.

In contrast, Intermountain is stable, we’re taking care of our physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, and other employees, and we’re ready to serve COVID patients and other members of the community.

One compensation issue that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic: Annual pay raises for all eligible employees will be paid starting Friday, April 10. Executive leaders have deferred annual pay increases indefinitely.

Intermountain Healthcare is a valued partner in all the communities we serve. We’re doing all we can to prevent and treat COVID-19, and as the pandemic continues, we’re relentlessly focused on the health and the economic stability of our team.

Gail Miller is owner and chair of the Larry H. Miller Group and serves as the chair of Intermountain Healthcare’s unpaid Board of Trustees. Marc Harrison, M.D., is president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare.