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August 25, 2010
by Bobbie Byrne
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July 1 is the start of my organization’s fiscal year, so any changes that have accompanied the new budget are in full swing by that date. There are the usual reductions in various discretionary items, but by far, the biggest issue is coffee.

The coffee itself is not the problem, but the fact that it is no longer free in the cafeteria for employees, is. If you would like a cup of cafeteria coffee, it will now cost 89 cents (employee discount applied).

As a member of the senior staff, which approved this particular cut, it seemed a no-brainer. We are now a geographically dispersed organization with facilities in three counties. This benefit only impacted those at the main hospital, and only those who drank coffee. There was no free soda, juice or milk. To me, it seemed a hold-over from a different time in medicine, a time when doctors and nurses carried their coffee cups, and often lit cigarettes, to the nurse’s station or even into a patient’s room. None of our other local hospitals continue to offer free coffee in the cafeteria to employees. It was not a huge amount of money, but it was hard to justify as necessary.

Naively, I believed that the coffee change would pass without incident. After all, the serious coffee drinkers were already getting their coffee from the lobby coffee stand, not the cafeteria. Those people had been shelling out their own money for the heavy brown water in the prestigious cups for several years.

But the complaints started to come anyway. A note passed to one of my directors said, “No Coffee, No Workee.” I tried to joke my way through it, stating that Edward Hospital was really protecting the employees. Coffee could be a gateway drug. Before they knew it, we would need to have needle exchange programs at the Help Desk and turn the data center into a crack den. They were not amused. Nor were they fooled by my antics to distract them from the topic at hand.

Many people felt like it was another thing that was being taken away. Raises are smaller than in previous years. We are filling open positions, just not as quickly. The pressure is on; everyone is working harder.

One of my colleagues, a long-standing member of the senior staff, commented that we had preserved the funding for the free Thanksgiving turkey—hand-delivered by a member of the management team. She stated that if that if that benefit ever went away, there just might be riots on the floors.

I am hoping that it never gets to that point. I am not sure how much I could push the turkey-tryptophan-leading-to-Valium-addiction angle. I just might have to admit that the economic realities of healthcare have come home to our family at Edward Hospital.

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