'I feel helpless': 13-year Essentia Health worker among 900 laid off amid pandemic

FARGO, N.D. - (Valley News Live) Joi Ingman says she's been with Essentia Health in Fargo for 13 years, working behind the scenes. She knew something was coming when her bosses asked her to talk.

“I had a feeling at that time that I was going to be one of them so when they finally met with me I was already bawling like a big old baby,” said Ingman.

Ingman is one of 900 Essentia Health workers without a job and says getting laid off scared her more than being diagnosed with cancer.

“Truthfully, because cancer, they know what you have to do, they know the steps you have to take, but with this, there are so many unknowns," Ingman said. "I loved my job. I loved the people that I worked with. They got me through so much.”

Ingman says she worked to make sure the hospital was prepared for a surge of COVID-19 cases. The president of Essentia Health West says that this state of preparedness is one of the reasons why they were terminated.

“We spent 13 million dollars on PPE" said Bill Heegaard, president of Essentia Health West.

Heegaard says they lost 50% of their revenue due to stopping doing elective surgeries. He said Essentia lost $100 million in March and April.

“This disruption of COVID is pretty extensive," said Heegaard. "We think that recovery is going to slower than most people think and we also think it's probably changed some dynamics of healthcare.”

He added that the layoffs won't affect patient care.

“We worked really hard so that won't be the case" Heegaard said. "Part of that is also that our volumes are down so we have the capability.”

Heegaard said they hope to rehire the workers furloughed earlier this year. Joi Ingman said she is hoping she’ll get her job back eventually, also.

“If Essentia has other positions in the future, yes I'm going to try to go back because I absolutely loved it there,” Ingman said.

Bill Heegaard of Essentia Health said nearly no doctors and nurses were part of the layoffs. Most of those impacted are those working behind the scenes.