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Nicklaus Children's Hospital Recently Laid Off 135 Workers. So Why Is It Opening A New Hospital?

C.M. Guerrero/Miami Herald
In October 2017, Nicklaus Children's Hospital surgeons and a medical team check up on an infant with heart issues who was evacuated from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

The only stand-alone children’s hospital in Miami-Dade — also one of the county’s top private employers — recently laid off 135 employees. That represents more than three percent of the workforce at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Nicklaus executives say it had to be done to preserve the financial health of the organization.

But the round of layoffs comes at the same time Nicklaus plans to open a second hospital near Miami International Airport.

According to the Miami Herald, the site chosen is the former Miami Medical Center, which closed in October, 2017. And the relationship between the for-profit investment companies looking to jump-start the Miami Medical Center and the upper management of the non-profit Nicklaus Children's is raising questions.

WLRN's Christine DiMattei interviews Miami Herald reporter Daniel Chang, who covers healthcare, about the recent round of lay-offs at Nicklaus — and the non-profit's plans.

Interview highlights:

WLRN: Hospitals around the country — including Nicklaus Children's  are operating under financial burdens. What would cause a hospital to reduce its staff?

CHANG: There have been reductions in reimbursements from insurers in both private, commercial plans as well as public programs like Medicare and Medicaid. There's been a shift of patients away from overnight admissions and more into outpatient care where they get the surgeries on the same day and go home on the same day. So all of the hospitals in South Florida are competing in this difficult environment.

The hospital system that runs Nicklaus also plans to open a new hospital near Miami International Airport. And the timing is raising some eyebrows.

The second hospital is called the Miami Medical Center. It's the old Pan American Hospital that was built in the early 1960s. About five or six years ago, it was sold to an investment group from Kansas. And that investment group and another business venture — a for-profit venture whose corporate officers and directors are made up of Nicklaus Children's executives and board members — managed the hospital. This joint venture to manage the Miami Medical Center involved not just financial help but also sending clinical staff — including pediatric cardiologists, nurses and techs — from Nicklaus Children's over to the Medical Center to help cover shifts. And I was hearing from doctors and nurses who weren't happy about that.

What kind of criticism has Nicholas had to withstand over this last move with the layoffs?

I speak with doctors and nurses off the record. They say morale is not good. And they're concerned about  about the lack of transparency in some of these private, for-profit ventures involving Nicklaus Children's executives and board members. It's not clear to them whose money was invested and whether or not it's contributing to these financial pressures. So in the absence of information from Nicklaus Children's hospital executives and board members explaining who was involved in this venture, I think employees are going to continue to wonder well just how much of a role did this private venture contribute to job losses. And that's that's the unanswered question.

Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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