Emergency room doctors facing pay cuts and understaffing during pandemic

Health care workers face pay cut amid outbreak
Health care workers face pay cut amid outbrea... 02:10

The financial fallout of the pandemic is affecting some of the most vital health workers in the country. CBS News spoke with ER doctors in at least half a dozen states who said they're taking pay cuts of up to 40%.

The American College of Emergency Physicians said cutting benefits and shifts could force some emergency rooms to shut down.

Dr. Leslie Simon, the chair of the emergency medicine department at the Mayo Clinic, sees patients with COVID-19 symptoms daily.  "You go through the stages of grief when you get a pay cut," Simon said. "And we all did, but I think they understand why it happened. And there's very much the sentiment among our department that we're all in this together. And we understand that it was necessary."

Simon and her team just took a 10% salary reduction — a consequence of the hospital's anticipated $3 billion revenue loss.

"We still have student loans. We have kids to send to college. We have mortgages," she said.

The Mayo Clinic is among thousands of hospitals across the country losing money fast. According to JP Morgan Chase, most hospitals make half or more of their revenue from elective procedures, which have been put on hold. Add to those losses at least a 30% decline in emergency room visits since the pandemic started due to patients staying at home out of fear of contracting the coronavirus.

"I think it's possible [some emergency rooms are so inadequately staffed lives may now be at risk,]" Simon told CBS News. "I also think a lot of them are at risk for closing."

One ER doctor who would not speak on camera told CBS News her hours were cut by about 50% and that she now is the only ER doctor during her shifts — down from four — making her responsible for up to 40 beds. 

Dr. Natasha K, who tested 17 patients for COVID-19 just yesterday, agreed to speak if CBS News didn't use her last name.

"We're afraid to go into work in the ER," Natasha said.

And now she said she is also afraid to lose her job. "We feel like our jobs are more valuable now than ever," Natasha explained. "It's a little difficult to really digest what happened. It doesn't really change our attitude going to work."

  • Nikki Battiste
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    Nikki Battiste is a CBS News correspondent based in New York.