For 15 years, Rebecca Bianco worked as a claims resolution specialist—the same job as Denny—at a small-town hospital in Woodruff, Wis., about three hours north of Denny’s office. Like Denny, Bianco figured she’d retire there. In fact, Bianco and her husband had just bought a house near the hospital using her 401k to help with the down payment.
Then, in early 2018, she and her colleagues were pulled into a room and told they were being laid off. Bianco, in her mid-50s at the time, took the news hard. She started having panic attacks and is still on medication for the anxiety she says was initially brought on by the layoff.
“We had settled here and I figured I would retire there, and what am I going to do now?” she said.
Bianco and many of her colleagues lived in Minocqua, a small northern Wisconsin tourist town near Woodruff. Most have since moved away.
“I think it affected our little town of Minocqua,” she said. “When Ascension took over, they really outsourced a lot of jobs. They cost a lot in this community. Whole families are gone now.”
So far, no Ascension St. Francis Hospital employees who are members of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals have lost their jobs due to offshoring. But Jamie Lucas, director of the Milwaukee union, said he finds the health system’s practice of offshoring troubling.
“It really demonstrated to us that we needed to brace for their business model rather than their care-delivery model,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s about what’s best for our patients and the community.”
Offshoring relationships don’t always work out as planned. After not-for-profit BJC HealthCare laid off Adam Guerich and his colleagues from their customer support technician jobs in November 2018, Guerich agreed to stick around for roughly five months to ensure the transition went smoothly.
Guerich’s job—based out of an office in St. Louis, where BJC is headquartered—involved helping BJC employees with information technology, including account access during onboarding, offboarding and role changes. In total, Guerich estimates BJC laid off at least 125 employees around that time, although it’s unclear how many of those were sent overseas. BJC declined to comment.
Before the change, Guerich and his team prided themselves on their ability to get through a high volume of help desk requests. Afterward, when the work was offshored to India, Guerich said employees “hated it.” Guerich said people struggled with the language barrier, and he didn’t think the employees in India had received enough training.
The offshored employees would in many cases escalate problems they couldn’t solve to Guerich’s small remaining team. The question queue reached 1,000 at one point, with some requests months overdue, he said.
“We were just totally overwhelmed with work,” Guerich said.
Guerich, who now works for a national supply company, said he doesn’t know whether BJC still offshores that work.
The TAA data show nearly 30 billing and transcription employees at Grays Harbor Community Hospital, in Aberdeen, Wash., became eligible for assistance in 2018 when the hospital offshored jobs to India. John Warring, shop steward with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 and a microbiologist at the hospital, estimates closer to 75 people were laid off around that time. The hospital declined to comment.
Lucy Vest had worked in a variety of positions at Grays Harbor for 44 years before she was laid off from her billing department job in January 2018. The news came on her 66th birthday, just after she and her coworkers had celebrated with a hot dog lunch.
“I think it was the way they did it that people were quite upset with,” Vest said. “Because after this meeting they said, ‘By your desks upstairs there are a couple of boxes. Take your personal items, and you’ll be escorted out of the building.’ ”
Vest retired after that, but most of her colleagues weren’t ready to do so. Some were in their 30s.
In a small, one-hospital town like Aberdeen, whose economy has sunk along with the decline of the timber industry, well-paying jobs with benefits are hard to come by, Warring said.
“They basically were escorted out the door and told not to come back,” he said. “It was pretty heartbreaking for some of those employees who had been there for years and years. It was pretty traumatic for everybody.”
Another potential ripple effect of offshoring: Employees who survive the layoffs might lose trust in their employer, fearing their jobs will be next.
After the Arizona Digestive Center in Scottsdale laid off employees in 2018 so the work could be done in India, Joyia Savoca Losow said she quit her job in the practice’s billing department. The center didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“If they don’t have loyalty toward their workers, then I didn’t think that was going to last,” she said.
Guerich felt the same way after losing his job at BJC.
“We were angry that they would do that to us,” he said. “Because we were their faithful employees. But everybody is replaceable. Always remember that, right?”