When Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast opened its doors more than a decade ago, Sheryl Johnston was on board as one of the first employees hired.



As Senior Development Coordinator of SHHEC's Foundation, Johnston was frequently out and about in the community and at the hospital, and became a recognizable face that was instantly associated with the foundation.  



Last Wednesday, Johnston was told her position was being eliminated due to budget cuts and she was let go immediately.



"I was shocked and saddened," Johnston told The Sun. "I was aware of some restructuring, but I did not know to what extent. I knew it was possible, but I had no warning or inkling. I felt like the rug was pulled out from under my feet."



Johnston said the restructuring resulted in several employees being let go whose divisions were eliminated. She said the foundation does have a team that is based in Pensacola and work will be handled as a unit. Locally, Leonard Olson will continue to direct the SHHEC Foundation office's endeavors.



Sacred Heart Health System's Public Relations Director Mike Burke told The Sun that within the health system as a whole, including all hospitals and doctor's offices, about 100 jobs were “displaced.”



The Sacred Heart Medical Group is a network of physician offices located across 200 miles of the Gulf Coast from Foley, Ala. to Apalachicola.



Burke said the impact at SHHEC was minimal with only four non-clinical positions being eliminated. The rest were in Pensacola or at the office-level.



He said the foundation has staff in Destin and Pensacola, and its work will continue.



Burke said the reduction was due to funding cuts from Medicare and Medicaid and changes in healthcare revenue. He said no other reduction is planned and the hospital will continue to hire for patient care positions.



In a prepared statement he issued later, Burke stated that Sacred Heart Health System, like health systems nationwide, have been affected by a series of changes that have caused a decline in payments and hospital volumes.



"We anticipate that many of these trends will continue," he said. "So to prepare for the future, we need to restructure our organization to better serve the changing needs of our community and preserve our mission."



“The leaders of Sacred Heart have a responsibility to carry on our mission not only for today but also for generations to come,” said Susan Davis, president and CEO of Sacred Heart Health System. “To sustain our mission in the face of current trends, we must undertake a wide range of actions to reduce costs and restructure our system for the future. We are looking at all ways to reduce expenses and our plans include a reduction of supply costs and a reduction in the size of our workforce.”



Approximately 5,000 people work at Sacred Heart facilities, including its three hospitals in Pensacola, Miramar Beach and Port St. Joe, as well as its regional network of physicians, diagnostic centers and rehabilitation centers.



Burke said declining reimbursement from Medicaid caused a $21 million decline in Sacred Heart Health System revenues this year.



A 2-percent cut in Medicare reimbursement that took effect April 1 due to federal budget cuts will reduce SHHS revenues by $2.4 million over the next year.



He said declining reimbursement from Medicare will continue under the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.



Despite those trends and unlike its sister hospital in Pensacola, admissions at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast have continued to grow, but there is a rising number of patients who do not have health insurance and who cannot pay for health care.   



Citing another example for the need to cut back, Burke pointed to the Florida Legislature’s decision not to accept federal funding for a major Medicaid expansion, which would have provided more funding to reduce losses on uninsured patients. The expansion rejected by the Legislature would have provided healthcare coverage to more than 1 million Florida residents through an expansion of Medicaid eligibility.



Sacred Heart Health System is Northwest Florida’s leading provider of health care. The Health System opened Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast in 2003. It is a 58-bed community hospital in South Walton.



Johnston was hired two years before that to get things up and going.



"I understand in the world of business this sometimes happens," said Johnston.



The Miramar Beach woman tells The Sun she believes there is a reason for everything.



"My husband Kevin and I are processing it all right now and we know we will be fine," she said with a tinge of sadness. "I believe with all my heart God has a plan for each of us – He just works in strange ways sometimes. I will be looking for employment; I just have to dust off my resume and get it current.”



She concluded with this upbeat take on the situation.



"With the help and gifts of time, energy, and financial resources from the community, we have seen our 'community' Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast become a reality. Watching the facility grow and expand its services since opening in January 2003 has been extremely exciting, rewarding and fulfilling and we have made a difference."



For more information about Sacred Heart Hospital call 850-416-7000 or visit online at www.sacred-heart.org.