UW Medicine, citing a budget shortfall caused by COVID-19, will furlough another 4,000 members of its workforce after bargaining last week with the unions that represent many of its employees, the hospital system announced Monday.

UW Medicine employs about 30,000 people at its hospitals and neighborhood clinics. These reductions, along with furloughs announced for 1,500 nonunion staffers last week, mean that more than 15% of the workforce will go without pay for one to eight weeks. The workers will keep health insurance and other benefits, according to a UW Medicine news release.

Nationwide, the pandemic has placed hospital systems at the center of a crisis both medical and financial.

In March and April, the pandemic forced UW Medicine to invest heavily — in laboratory testing and personal protective equipment, among other needs — as it transformed operations to treat patients with COVID-19. Meanwhile, efforts aimed at limiting the disease’s spread, such as halting elective procedures and slowing down nonurgent care, diminished revenues.

The health care system this month announced that it faced a $500 million budget shortfall by summer’s end. UW Medicine said in a news release that it has secured some $180 million in federal and state relief funds. The furloughs are among other measures the organization is taking to slash costs.

The furloughs are being implemented at Harborview Medical Center, UW Neighborhood Clinics and both University of Washington Medical Center campuses, among other divisions at the health care system.


Valley Medical Center, another UW Medicine institution, already has implemented furloughs and made staffing changes, the news release said.

Furloughed workers include members of SEIU1199NW, SEIU 925, the Washington Federation of State Employees and the Washington State Nurses Association, said Susan Gregg, a UW Medicine spokeswoman.

“This has been a very difficult, but necessary, decision to address the financial challenges facing UW Medicine and all healthcare organizations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine Hospitals & Clinics, in the news release.

Brandenburg added that the organization was taking steps to ensure patient care would not be affected by the furloughs and that UW Medicine was prepared for “future surges” of COVID-19 patients, should they come.

UW Medicine and other medical centers now are encouraging patients to return to care, which could improve patients’ well-being as well as hospitals’ financial state.

Patient volumes at emergency centers and primary care offices plummeted during the height of the pandemic, prompting concern and leaving many physicians wondering if people’s medical needs were left unmet and at risk of worsening during the disruption.

The faltering economy could cause further strain on hospitals’ finances. As jobless claims pile up, health experts say more people are likely to become uninsured or underinsured, which could leave hospitals taking on more patients who are unable to pay.