The stresses of battling the pandemic for twenty months, coupled with the strains of everyday life related to social activities, childcare, and educating children, took a heavy toll on the BH workforce.
The depth and severity of this crisis at times overshadowed even the pandemic. Among our workforce of nearly 13,000, open positions prior to the pandemic were in the range of 500. Following the first wave, that number rose to over 1,000. By the spring of 2021, it had reached 1,400, and in the fall of 2021, it had surpassed 1,800. These figures track with national statistics that show 1 in 5 healthcare workers leaving the field as part of a wider social phenomenon called “the great resignation.” Among the areas most affected were bedside caregivers, particularly nurses and respiratory therapists. Shortages for many entry level employees were most extreme, including areas such as food services, environmental services, medical assistants, nursing support and behavioral health.
To stem the tide of resignations and early retirements, BH instituted a series of market-based pay increases, retention bonuses, signing bonuses and referral bonuses. The minimum wage was advanced to $15/hour and benefits eligibility extended to a wider number of part-time workers. A hot line was set up to provide emotional support for our employees, and “Thankful Thursday” celebrations (photo above) were instituted to show appreciation and respect. Nearly 200 contract nurses were added to fill the gaps and ensure that nearly all nurses were able to take summer vacation. Additional recruiters were brought on board and a series of virtual job fairs for hard to recruit positions were held. Senior hospital and practice leaders huddled daily to shift resources to deal with crisis situations. Together these interventions began to have an effect at year’s end. Each week 100-150 new hires across all roles came through orientation, and the pipeline for recent graduates is now bearing fruit with new faces on the clinical units. However, it will be many months into 2022 before key gaps are closed, and it will be years before the impact of replacing veteran clinicians with new graduates will be fully mitigated.