LEWISTON — St. Mary’s Health System will furlough 77 employees, or about 5% of its workforce, as the health system struggles to adapt in the wake of COVID-19.

The furlough begins April 27 and has been set for 30 days. Some employees could be called back to work sooner. The furlough could also be extended.

The furlough affects administrative, support and clinical staff.

“The volumes have just dropped out of the clinics,” St. Mary’s President Steve Jorgensen said.

St. Mary’s decision comes two weeks after Lewiston’s other health system, Central Maine Healthcare, announced the furlough of 300 employees, or about 10% of its workforce.

Like other health systems in Maine, CMHC and St. Mary’s both rescheduled elective procedures, surgeries and doctor’s appointments as COVID-19 took hold in Maine. That drop in work led to steep drops in revenue just as hospitals had to spend more money on protective equipment and other COVID-19-related purchases.

Jorgensen said St. Mary’s has received $14 million in federal aid — money that will help the system with its cash flow but will not cover its losses. That money will also need to be paid back, Jorgensen said.

St. Mary’s could get more federal help in the future, but that’s “nothing we want to bank on,” he said.

Employees were notified of the furlough Tuesday. They will be eligible to receive unemployment benefits and can use vacation or other earned time as they wait for those benefits to start, but Jorgensen said they aren’t required to. Employees will keep their other benefits as well, including health insurance. They will still be responsible for paying their part of their insurance premiums.

“We’re viewing this as temporary and we can’t wait to get these folks back,” Jorgensen said.

St. Mary’s is part of Covenant Health, a Massachusetts-based health system. Jorgensen said furloughs will be Covenant-wide.

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