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Lee Health is freezing salaries and cutting benefits for all of its 13,500 employees in 2021 following a $20 million financial shortfall that the organization has blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the first time in nine years the health system has put a stop on all employee raises, which usually average 3% annually. Lee Health is Lee County’s largest employer.

Before the pandemic, the publicly operated hospital system had expected a profit margin of about $70 million by the end of its fiscal year on Sept. 30.

“This has been very unique, unprecedented – the most massive loss the organization has ever experienced,” said Ben Spence, the organization’s chief financial officer.

Lee Health doctors, nurses and other staff have been hard at work fighting the coronavirus for our community. These are images of them at Lee Memorial Hospital, Gulf