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Heroic in face of pandemic, L+M Hospital staff earn reward with bonuses

New London — Like their counterparts at health care institutions across the country, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital employees proved their mettle during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, forgoing days off and taking on extra shifts.

“It was like walking into a war zone every day,” Patrick Green, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer, said in an interview.

“Sustain that for nearly two years — that’s really heroic,” he said.

On Thursday, Green discussed L+M’s recovery from the pandemic as well as the hospital’s 5-year-old affiliation with Yale New Haven Health. The evening before, L+M conducted a public forum, the last such annual session the state Office of Health Strategy had required as part of the affiliation process. Green revealed during the forum, held virtually, that after posting a positive margin in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, L+M will pay employee bonuses for the first time since the affiliation.

During the interview, he said the bonuses, up to 3% of each employee’s salary, union and non-union alike, will be paid this month. Similar bonuses are being paid to employees across the Yale New Haven Health system, which includes four hospitals in Connecticut and Westerly Hospital in Rhode Island. Management will not receive bonuses.

L+M has 1,791 employees.

Green said L+M is able to pay the bonuses because it's met goals it set for quality of care, patient safety and employee engagement as well as financial health. The hospital’s financial statement for fiscal 2021, which has yet to be audited, shows L+M achieved an operating margin of about 3.6%, a marked improvement over the red ink spilled the previous fiscal year. An influx of federal stimulus money helped L+M turn things around, Green said.

Hospital officials had no inkling Wednesday that just hours before the public forum, the Office of Health Strategy would release its annual analysis of the state's hospitals' finances for fiscal 2020. The report shows L+M lost nearly $16 million on operations that year, a margin of minus 4%. The loss was partially offset by non-operating revenues, including investment income, leaving an overall margin of minus 3%.

Green noted that L+M faced a $29 million deficit in fiscal 2016, the year it joined Yale New Haven Health. After the affiliation, L+M broke even in fiscal 2017 and posted positive margins in both fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019.

Five years later

As a condition of the affiliation, Yale New Haven Health was required to invest $300 million in L+M and Westerly hospitals over a five-year period.

“We’ve exceeded that,” Green said, pointing to investments in equipment, technology and staff and efforts to improve underserved communities’ access to the hospitals’ services.

Green said L+M has upgraded its urology program, hiring additional physicians, including colorectal surgery specialists as well as cardiologists and experts in women’s health. The hospital now offers minimally invasive spine surgery and bariatric (weight-loss) surgery, and has made improvements to its pulmonology and intensive-care programs.

During the pandemic, L+M staff adapted to telehealth, an innovation Green said has changed health care forever. Some hospital rooms are now equipped with telehealth equipment that provides L+M patients with ready access to specialists in New Haven.

COVID-19 protocols that limited the spread of viruses also have had a lasting effect and some have been permanently adopted, Green said.

Looking ahead, he said the retention and recruitment of employees, both physicians and staff, figures to be his greatest challenge.

“Staff is tired, that’s why this latest surge (in COVID-19 cases) is so frustrating,” he said. “We’re a 24-hour business, we can’t take a break. People are burned out, exhausted. Some have decided to do other things with their life or they’re seeking a different work-life balance. It’s happening all over health care.”

As he spoke, the hospital was treating 21 COVID-19 patients, and the number of cases of the disease was climbing throughout the region.

Green said L+M currently has more job vacancies than usual and has the resources to hire people to fill them. Openings exist across the board, he said, including in such areas as nursing, technology, patient transport, nutrition and environmental services.


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