By Shereen Siewert

Aspirus will furlough or reduce work hours of some employees as of May 1 due to the “organizational impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a news release issued Wednesday.

The changes will primarily affect employees who do not work in direct patient care.

Aspirus President and CEO Matthew Heywood called the move “the most difficult” decision his leadership team has ever made.

“Our staff and caregivers are doing an excellent job building Aspirus into a national health care leader, but COVID-19 is reducing our business volumes. These drastic actions are ones we hoped to avoid but must take to ensure we can continue to serve our communities throughout this pandemic and for generations after.”

To prepare for a surge of patients Aspirus  established alternative screening sites, implemented aggressive visitor restrictions at all facilities, expanded intensive care units at all hospitals and canceled non-urgent procedures and appointments, the release stated. In-house COVID_19 testing capability was also rolled out at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, while some physician clinics were consolidated and temporarily closed.

As health systems nationwide implemented major, rapid changes to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 patients, Aspirus was on the leading edge of this work. Aspirus has been collaborating with state and local health agencies and following rapidly evolving guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a system, Aspirus:

Furloughed employees can continue their Aspirus health insurance and other benefits, and they may be recalled at any time to meet staffing needs.

“We care deeply about our team members, and our goal is to bring them back as soon as volumes allow us to do so,” Heywood said.