As millions of health care workers leave their jobs amid the "Great Resignation," staffing is now a top concern for many hospitals and health systems, leading them to promote new benefits to better attract and retain workers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 4.5 million workers quit or changed jobs in November 2021, with the health care and social assistance industry seeing the second highest number of resignations after the accommodation and food services industry.
The wave of resignations, which has been called the "Great Resignation," has been driven by a range of factors, including low-wage jobs without opportunities for career growth, rising costs of child care, increasing responsibility and grueling work conditions amid Covid-19 surges, and burnout from the pandemic.
A survey from the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) found that personnel shortages were rated as the top concern for hospital CEOs in 2021. This was the first time in nearly 20 years that staffing was rated a higher concern than financial challenges.
"Both long- and short-term solutions are needed to address the shortages in critical frontline staff shown in our study to ensure hospitals have workforces that can meet the demands for safe, high-quality care both today and in the future," said ACHE CEO Deborah Bowen.
How 9 health systems are attracting and retaining workers
To help attract and retain workers, hospitals and health systems have not only increased their wages, they are also offering new benefits to help improve workers' quality of life, reduce feelings of burnout, and more. Some of these benefits include:
1. Housing assistance
Currently, two hospitals in the St. Luke's Health System in Iowa are offering and building affordable housing for their employees, including travel nurses. Specifically, St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center is building 12 housing units, and St. Luke's McCall Medical Center has purchased a few homes to provide to employees in the short term.
Similarly, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center partnered with the city of Steamboat Springs, Colo., to begin building affordable housing for hospital and city employees beginning in July. The $4.5 million project will include a total of 22 units in a multifamily building, 12 for the hospital and 10 for the city.
For workers looking to buy their own homes, Beaufort Memorial Hospital in South Carolina has created a homebuyer assistance program, which offers up to $10,000 for down payments, closing costs, and more.
2. Educational opportunities
Some hospitals are now offering tuition coverage for their workers. For example, Bon Secours Mercy Health offers 100% tuition-free education for priority clinical programs, up to $5,250 annual for in-network academic programs and undergraduate degrees, and up to $10,000 annually toward in-network nursing and graduate degrees.
In addition, Seattle Children's Hospital tripled its tuition assistance program for 2022 from $225,000 to $1 million, according to Wendy Price, the hospital's director of workforce development and planning.
UCHealth has also expanded educational opportunities for its workers through the health system's Ascend Career Program. The program will cover 100% of the tuition for select clinical programs, high school diplomas, and English learning. UCHealth will also fund some degree programs, specifically in social work, behavioral health, and other similar areas.
"The old adage was that you went to college so that you could get a good job," said David Mafe, UCHealth's chief diversity officer. "We're turning that on its head and saying, 'Come work for UCHealth so that you can get an education, so you can go to college.'"
3. Child care assistance
According to AdventHealth spokesperson Melanie Lawthorn, several hospitals under the health system now offer child care programs. For example, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission in Kansas offers an employer-sponsored, on-site child care program. It also offers flexible scheduling for employees and medical staff.
Similarly, Mass General Brigham partnered with Bright Horizons in July 2021 to offer child care to its employees. Through this partnership, employees can receive additional benefits, like full-time care, in-home backup child care, tutoring, and nanny services. The health system currently operates six child care centers that are managed by Bright Horizons.
4. Mental health benefits
Many health systems are also expanding their mental health benefits to help employees combat stress, fatigue, and burnout.
For example, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare provides its employees with mental health experts and chaplains. It has also hosted town hall-style meetings to allow employees to express their concerns to leadership.
Providence has also implemented several measures to help employees combat emotional depletion, such as its "No One Cares Alone" program. Through this program, teams of behavioral clinicians, social workers, and chaplains consult with staff members who serve on high-stress units—including ICU, emergency, respiratory therapy, and pharmacy—to offer them practical mental wellness suggestions.
Providence also issues an anonymous mental health checkup survey to assess anxiety, depression, burnout, PTSD, and suicidality among staff. Therapists review the surveys on a secure platform that allows them to communicate with individual employees confidentially. (Gooch/Plescia, Becker's Hospital Review, 3/1; Plescia, Becker's Hospital Review, 11/12/21; Plescia, Becker's Hospital Review, 1/19; Daley, CPR News, 2/3)