The Minnesota Nurses Association is in talks with Essentia Health over potential layoffs of members, a spokesman for the union said Thursday.

Rick Fuentes said Essentia hasn't announced any layoff plans for the registered nurses who make up MNA's membership, but has said it wants to have the option available. The local bargaining unit has been in discussion with management this week over that potential.

Essentia is refusing to take the possibility of layoffs off the table, Fuentes said.

Asked about the talks, Essentia issued the following statement:

"We are privileged to have some of the best nurses in the country and we are committed to reaching an understanding that enables us to continue providing excellent patient care. Out of respect for the negotiating process, we will have no further comment at this time.”

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In late March, Essentia laid off about 500 employees that it described as non-medical staff. This week, those layoffs were extended by another 30 days. The health system said more layoffs had taken place this week, but refused to say how many.

The actions come as hospitals throughout the state face an economic shortfall caused by canceling elective procedures and reducing clinic visits in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 cases. Minnesota hospitals and health systems expect to lose $3 billion over the next 90 days, the Minnesota Hospital Association has said.

"We're in talks with lots of other hospitals around the state about this very same issue," Fuentes said, adding about northern Minnesota: "There are a lot of empty beds up there."

This story was updated at 9:50 a.m. April 17 with a statement from Essentia Health. It was originally posted at 11:41 p.m. April 16.