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North Bay hospitals operator launches $220 million nationwide workforce investment program

Providence Health System — parent company to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Petaluma Valley Hospital and Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa — plans to spend $220 million on recognition and referral bonuses for caregivers across its national 52-hospital network in seven states.

Beverly Murray, regional chief human resources officer for Providence in Northern California, said the health system’s incentive program, announced Sept. 2, comes at a time where there is a substantial shortage of health care professionals regionally and across the country.

“Because of this shortage, it is critical that organizations like ours do everything reasonable to recruit and retain talent,” Murray said. “The last 18 months of the pandemic and its associated demands on health care have further exacerbated this situation and the criticality of adequate staffing.”

The $220 million investment includes $1,000 recognition bonuses for all caregivers who have been with the organization for at least 90 days; a referral bonus as high as $7,500, depending on the role; and “highly competitive” sign-on bonuses in an effort to fill 17,000 jobs across the Providence network.

“A good amount of this total is available to our caregivers in Northern California, but we cannot say precisely how much will be invested in this region,” Murray said. “Since we don’t know how many referrals we will receive and how many of the open roles eligible for sign-on bonuses will be filled in the coming months, it’s impossible to say how much total investment from this fund will reach Northern California.”

Murray said systemwide, Providence has about 17,000 openings, of which 720 are in Northern California, including Humboldt County.

She said the greatest need for workers in the three Providence North Bay hospitals and entire Northern California region is in specialized acute-care nursing, infection prevention, imaging technicians, respiratory therapists and health care support roles.

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West expressed support for Providence’s initiative and any others.

“Health care workers are exhausted, demoralized, feeling pushed to the limit and underappreciated by employers and government leaders,” SEIU-UHW Press Secretary Renée Saldaña told the Business Journal in an email statement. “Any effort to recognize the sacrifices they've made and continue to make is important. There should be much more investment in the people who've carried us through the pandemic.”

Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president, external affairs at the 400-member California Hospital Association, said staffing challenges are the biggest issue facing hospitals throughout the state and nation.

“Health care professionals are exhausted and burned out. And, the stress and uncertainty of the past 18 months is leading some caregivers to reconsider their career paths, which is very concerning,” Emerson-Shea said. “Without doctors, nurses and other clinicians, the ability of hospitals to care for anyone in need, 24/7, cannot be accomplished.”

Emerson-Shea also said that hospitals have been doing everything within their power to recruit and retain their workers.

“Many have provided enhanced compensation, temporary housing, child care services and subsidies, extended leave, counseling and wellness programs, etc.,” she said. “This latest announcement by Providence is another example of the investments hospitals are making to ensure they have an adequate supply of health care professionals now and into the future.”

Kaiser Permanente, even before the pandemic, said the state’s projected demand for new health care workers was approximated to be 500,000 by 2024.

In January 2020, as part of a labor agreement reached the previous October, Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-UHW partnered to establish Futuro Health, a $130 million nonprofit organization formed to develop more certified health care workers.

Futuro Health aims to graduate 10,000 new licensed, credentialed health care workers in California by 2024, according to Kaiser. That work will extend outside of the state to provide an affordable education-to-work solution.

In what is now a prescient statement, Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Greg Adams said the following in the January 2020 announcement:

“Kaiser Permanente recognizes California’s health care industry is facing a projected workforce shortage of half a million people over the next few years. By investing in health education, skills training, and retraining programs with Futuro Health, Kaiser Permanente, in collaboration with SEIU-UHW, is leading efforts to reverse the shortage trend.”

The Business Journal reached out to other North Bay hospital systems, including Sutter Health, MarinHealth and NorthBay Healthcare, to learn if they also are developing recruitment and retention incentives. The health systems did not confirm one way or the other.

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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