Mass layoffs at hospitals slow near end of 2011

The annual total of job losses was expected to be lower than 2009-10, when the recession was in full swing.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Jan. 5, 2012

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Fewer mass layoffs occurred at hospitals in the final months of 2011, and a staffing company survey suggests hiring may increase in the health care industry this year.

Mass layoffs are defined as at least 50 people losing their jobs from a single company.

There were seven such incidents at hospitals in November 2011 that affected at least 464 employees, according to the monthly report on mass layoffs issued Dec. 22, 2011, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nonclinical staff, rather than physicians, tend to be most affected when an institution lays off workers.

At this rate, 2011 will most likely close with 120 mass layoffs at hospitals, leading to about 7,876 people claiming unemployment benefits. This is comparable to much of the past decade, but below 2009 and 2010, when the recession was making its mark on the medical industry. The recession ran from December 2007 to June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Most experts say health care is a lagging economic indicator.

A total of 152 mass layoffs occurred at hospitals in 2009, the largest annual sum for the past decade. The incidents affected at least 11,787 employees, the second-highest number for the previous 10 years. A large number of people were affected by mass layoffs at hospitals in 2005, because of closings caused by Hurricane Katrina, with 97 incidents and 13,282 people losing their jobs.

A record 137 mass layoffs in the hospital industry was posted in 2010, costing 10,490 people their jobs.

Some guarded economic optimism was supported by a long-running staffing company survey.

The quarterly Manpower Employment Outlook Survey for the U.S., released Dec. 13, 2011, found that the number of companies planning to hire in the first quarter of 2012 went up. Manpower has been surveying more than 18,000 employers, including many in health care, for nearly 50 years.

"Slow but steady momentum has improved employer confidence, which is likely why more employers are planning to hire in the first quarter," said Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup president of the Americas.

The seasonally adjusted net employment outlook for the economy as a whole went up 9% for the first quarter of 2012. Jobs in health and education were expected to increase by 3%. The numbers represent nine consecutive quarters of growth in projected hiring.

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