NEW BEDFORD - Nearly 200 longtime employees within the Southcoast Health system have opted to be bought out by the company.

Peter Cohenno, spokesman for Southcoast Health, says the company offered to buyout "regular status employees" that were at least 62 years old and have worked for Southcoast for at least 20 consecutive years.

Of the approximately 7,600 employees, 352 met the criteria for the buyout, with 189 accepting the offer.

Cohenno tells WBSM News the buyouts were necessary following $29 million in operating losses in the third quarter of this fiscal year for the hospital group. Cohenno says there are several reasons for the losses.

"There's reduced medicare reimbursement, additional bad debt, charities, shifts from inpatients to outpatients, and we had an increase of the equivalent of 200 full time employees in 2016," said Cohenno.

Cohenno says he's not yet sure of how much money the buyouts will eventually save, or if the hospital group will need to replace all of those who accepted the buyouts.

"The window for employees to accept the package recently closed, so we're still in the process of looking at the 189 employees who accepted and tabulating what those savings might be."

Cohenno says more steps will be necessary for Southcoast Health to recoup those operating losses.

The employees will be dispersed from their current positions between November 3, 2017 and September 30, 2018.