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Uninsured cost jobs at Penrose St. Francis 

Citing financial constraints, Penrose St. Francis Hospital has laid off 34 employees since last summer.

Penrose's director of marketing and communications, Julie Armstrong, cited the growing costs of treating uninsured patients as a major reason the hospital is cutting staff. Legally, the hospital can't turn away anyone who is seeking care, and the decrease in revenue is taking its toll.

"It's not any big layoff; it's just flexing our staff to the volumes and trying to deal with the number of uninsured in this economy," Armstrong said.

Penrose St. Francis, which is owned by Centura Health, the largest hospital system in Colorado, currently employs approximately 2,900 people. Armstrong said that, statewide, the hospital system has experienced a nearly 25 percent increase in the amount of care it provides to the uninsured in the last year. Because it is a private hospital, it does not receive federal subsidies for providing care to the uninsured.

According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 700,000 Coloradans, or 16 percent of the state's population, are currently uninsured.

Geri Tierney, who was laid off last month after 25 years as a nurse case manager, said she understood the hospital's decision as a financial one. "I have no malice toward them; they made a business decision." Tierney, who is president of the 7,000-member Orthopedic Nurses Association, said she sees the current state of healthcare as grim.

"If they haven't got the money coming in, they can't pay us," she said. "Both of my children ... neither one has health insurance."

Marlo Langman, a medical social worker for 20 years who was also laid off last month, said he worries about the hospital's capacity to provide care.

"I think every department there is really kind of pushing as hard as they [can]," Langman said. "They start cutting and eventually patients and famil[ies] start complaining and they start hiring. It's kinda a cycle they go through."

The hospital is currently undergoing a $52 million expansion project, but Armstrong said there is no connection between the layoffs and the expansion project. Armstrong noted that the funding for the hospital's new wing was planned five years ago.

--John Dicker

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