MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Facing intense criticism from hospital employees, elected officials and members of his governing board, the President of Jackson Health System, Carlos Migoya, rescinded his plans to begin furloughing healthcare workers.

In an email to hospital employees Wednesday afternoon, Migoya wrote: “All the staffing and personnel changes I announced last week, including the furloughs, are being deferred indefinitely.”

Tuesday evening, the Miami Dade County Commission effectively told Migoya that he should not move forward with the furloughs. Privately commissioners, and others were telling Migoya that he should not be laying off workers as the hospital is preparing to treat a wave of new coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.

Martha Baker, the President of SEIU 1991, which represents more than 5,000 healthcare employees including nurses and doctors, was dumbfounded by the original announcement.

“Why would you do that at a time when we’re preparing for battle with this COVID virus?” she told CBS Miami on Monday.

Baker wasn’t the only one caught off guard. Joe Arriola, the chairman of the Public Health Trust which oversees Jackson, was also not told in advance of the decision made by Migoya and the hospital’s Chief Financial Officer, Mark Knight.

According to Baker and two other sources, Migoya and Knight initially planned on furloughing nurses and doctors in units that do not directly treat COVID patients.

When Arriola was notified of the plan, it prompted a heated phone call between Migoya and Arriola that quickly degenerated into a shouting match between the two men.

Arriola threatened Migoya that if he moved ahead with the furloughs he would call an emergency meeting of the Public Health Trust to rescind the orders.

Members of the county commission, who were also left in the dark, saying if the hospital was having financial problems they could have come to the county for assistance and that this was the wrong time to lay off hospital workers.

On Tuesday, commissioners gave Migoya a graceful way out of the crisis he created, by telling him they would work with him to help secure federal funds to support the hospital. Congress had already allocated $150 billion to help for hospitals like Jackson and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was proposing an additional $100 billion for hospitals in the next relief bill.

One official told CBS Miami that Migoya should have realized the hospital would be eligible for federal help.

Martha Baker agreed, saying the actions by Migoya and Knight have hurt morale at the hospitals.

“I think they got it backwards,” Baker said. “I think we have to put the financial crisis on the backburner and focus on the health care crisis. And then we have to lean hard on our local, state and federal government, especially with stimulus packages, to restore this economy that’s been so stressed by this once in 100-year flu epidemic.”

Baker said this is an unnecessary distraction for the workers who are putting their lives on the line.

“We’re climbing,” Baker said, referring to the number of cases entering the hospital. “We’re in the climb. We have no idea how high we’re going to climb. We don’t know if and when we’re going to level off. Hopefully we do. But we’ve got to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is no time to be taking newborn ICU nurses and tell half of them to go home. We need to be training them to be hands on deck. We can’t disappoint this community. There’s going to be no redo on this.”

Baker added: “There’s plenty of work, I believe, for everyone.”

She described the actions of the hospital as “despicable,” noting that Migoya’s announcement came exactly one week after an ICU nurse Araceli Ilagan died after contracting the virus.

“And for people to be feel like we’re just another number, that Celi can die and that’s OK,” Baker said. “And then we’re gonna go on to, you know, if we get this three-week lull, let’s send some nurses and newborn ICU home. Let’s send some social workers home. We don’t really need the people in billing. You know, let’s just send them home. And then in three weeks, when we need them all back, when we’re hoping with COVID patients, we’ll bring them all back. Why wouldn’t you say let’s figure out a way we can put them all to work right now?”

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Jim DeFede

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