Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital and Long Beach Memorial, the city’s largest and busiest hospital, have laid off 72 people in the last month and eliminated more than a dozen vacant positions.

The latest round of layoffs arrived in mid-January when the hospitals let go 59 employees, a move that comes on the heels of Memorial announcing the closure of its outpatient pharmacy and the termination of its 13 workers.

In an internal memo that a former employee provided to the Business Journal, hospital CEO Blair Kent, who joined Memorial one year ago following the abrupt resignation of John Bishop, announced what he called a “restructure” of operations, saying the leadership regularly “assesses operational strategies” to improve performance.

“The new structure supports best practices within health care and aligns with today’s hospitals and the needs of the care teams and the patients we serve,” Kent wrote in the memo dated Jan. 23. “The changes are focused on optimizing operations and further prioritizing patient-centered care.”

The move though, has raised concern among staff, who say the reductions have sparked fears about declining patient care.

“They’re dismantling the safety net of the hospital and definitely the safety net for the community,” said a now-former hospital worker, who asked to remain anonymous.

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MemorialCare’s Saddleback and Orange Coast hospitals are not undergoing similar layoffs, according to Long Beach Memorial spokesperson Richele Steele. The former employee pointed out the two Orange County hospitals are smaller and tend to serve higher-income communities.

Between Memorial and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital, the largest number of laid-off employees were nursing directors and managers, according to an internal document provided to the Business Journal by a former employee. Clerks, administrative secretaries, the previously announced pharmacy staff, data entry, office managers and others were among the reductions as well.

While the document did not include the names of employees, it did include their ages. The average age of the laid-off workers is 52, with nearly three dozen in their 50s and 60s as well as one worker in their 70s.

In addition to the layoffs, hospital leadership has terminated 19 vacant positions, according to spokesperson Steele.

“These decisions are difficult, and we are committed to approaching this process with empathy and respect,” Kent, the hospital CEO, wrote in his memo.

Current and former employees, however, have criticized the process. Four agreed to speak to the Business Journal on the condition they not be named because they feared they would lose their jobs or not be able to secure a good reference from Memorial.

When outpatient pharmacy staff was informed on Jan. 8 that the department would close effective Feb. 2, the news was a shock, workers said, with one adding that they are angry at the “amateurish” way the two rounds of layoffs were carried out.

The former employee said the leadership team held a meeting to announce the pharmacy closure to the rest of the hospital’s staff and told personnel they would all “be fine.” Just days later, however, the additional layoffs were announced.

A current employee said some of the terminated positions are crucial for smooth daily operations and many of the seasoned employees let go had been vital in training fledgling nurses, especially coming out of the pandemic.

“These nurse leads have been pretty critical,” they said, noting that decades or even centuries of institutional knowledge was lost at the hospital. “These are some Achilles heel-type injuries.”

Steele declined to comment directly on whether or not the cuts were related to financial struggles at Memorial, but a May 2023 assessment of MemorialCare’s financials by Fitch Ratings found the Southern California health care provider recorded $69 million in operational losses in the first few months of the year in large part due to workforce and inflation challenges.

The health system still managed a strong financial rating, with promises of improved operations this year, according to the report. To that end, Steele said the layoffs will improve efficiency.

Before the layoffs, Memorial employed 5,442 people, she said.

“We have simplified and streamlined the reporting structure, creating greater alignment of roles and responsibilities for leadership positions across the organization,” Steele said. “This will enable more rapid escalation to senior leadership of opportunities to better address the needs of our patients and staff.”

Multiple staff, meanwhile, say the layoffs have caused at least a temporary breakdown in the chain of command, with many workers unsure of who to report to.

“That’s kind of the trade-off of keeping it a secret,” a current employee said of the restructuring. “It does seem poorly planned and it will continue to be chaotic.”

The disruptions and uncertainty have also prompted some remaining employees to start looking for jobs elsewhere, according to workers.

“It’s really bad for patient care,” one said. “Health care is a business but it’s people’s lives at the end of the day.”