EL PASO, Texas - Waits were longer at the pharmacy and inside the emergency room at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center during this year's mandated budget cuts. Despite that admission by the hospital's commander Col. Michael Heimall, he doesn't think that was the biggest effect on his hospital between April and August of this year. According to Heimall, the morale was the biggest toll.
In late 2012 talks of sequestration, or forced budget cuts, swirled in El Paso. The government couldn't settle on a budget, and talks turned to making deep cuts tied to the Department of Defense.
This year, the Pentagon announced that military civilian employees would be forced to take 22 unpaid days off referred to as furloughs. That number was amended to 11 and later reduced to six days.
At WBMC, nearly 20 percent of the staff took cuts. Those cuts were spread out throughout the week to reduce effects on the hospital, but Col. Heimall said the cuts still took a toll. During a five month-long span, 140 of the 2,600 WBMC civilian employees left. Heimall said turnover isn't rare since many of the civilian employees are tied to military members, but it's believed that some left due to the uncertainty.
Heimall told ABC-7 that two physicians left. Both told Heimall they couldn't stay because of fiscal uncertainty.
"And then I had a physician who we were hiring that chose to work somewhere else due to the fiscal uncertainty," said Col. Heimall.
Congress still hasn't come up with a budget for 2014. With furloughs in the rear-view mirror, Heimall said he couldn't ensure that more cuts wouldn't be done. He's hoping that budget is passed so that doesn't happen.
"It is going to be very, very challenging and we're going to have to pay attention if whether or not we can provide the same scope of services that we're trying to provide," said Heimall.