Health care companies shed 6,000 positions in December, the first down month since July 2003, according to the government's monthly jobs report. This comes after a yearlong slowdown in hiring. The hardest hit areas were nursing homes, which jettisoned 3,900 jobs, and home health care, which lost 3,700 positions. Hospitals got rid of 2,400 jobs, while physicians' offices reduced staff by 1,200. For the year, health care added only 207,600 jobs, down from 320,600 a year earlier. It was the slowest year of growth since 1999.