Brigham and Women’s Hospital to Offer Voluntary Layoffs to Employees

It's unclear how many staffers will take the "voluntary separation opportunity."

Brigham and Women's

Photo by Dana Guth

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) will offer voluntary layoffs to staff members, just a few months after extending buyouts to 1,600 employees.

According to an internal email obtained by Boston, the hospital will offer a “voluntary separation opportunity” (VSO) to some of its 18,000 employees, in an effort to create “a respectful way to decrease our involuntary reduction in force by inviting employees from certain areas who may wish to leave the Brigham to voluntarily separate from the organization.”

The email, which was sent by BWH President Betsy Nabel, does not specify which employees will get the VSO offer, nor how many. It will depend, in part, on how many individuals take the buyout, which has been framed as an early retirement option for some employees ages 60 and older. A few days before its August 4 application deadline, roughly 35 percent of those eligible have taken the retirement deal.

The VSO, however, has been described as a chance for employees to voluntarily leave the hospital, rather than a retirement plan. Details are still being finalized, and it’s unclear whether compensation is involved.

“These decisions are not made lightly,” a BWH spokesperson says in a statement. “However, we owe it to our current patients—and those who will need our care in the future—to proactively mitigate unprecedented financial challenges to sustain our mission of maintaining and restoring health through leadership in compassionate care, scientific discovery, and education.”

Indeed, the instability at BWH speaks to wider issues in the healthcare sector. Many hospitals, especially those without BWH’s clout, are struggling to keep up with ever-rising operational costs and stagnant payments. And under an administration that has threatened to roll back Medicaid funding and downsize research funding, conditions may continue to worsen.

Still, layoffs and buyouts could exacerbate the staffing issues that contributed to BWH’s narrowly avoided nursing strike last year. At the time, nurses claimed that staffing shortages were making it nearly impossible to adequately care for the number of patients that pass through the hospital’s doors. Even Nabel, in the email circulated Wednesday, acknowledges that “the Brigham has been experiencing extremely high patient census for the past several weeks.”

Nonetheless, the Brigham remains outwardly optimistic about its labor restructuring. “This is a transformational time for our organization,” the email reads, “as we rethink our existing structures to better serve our patients, their families and all who work here today and well into the future.”