Local hospitals cultivate a variety of perks to attract and keep top employees

Evergreen Hospital Medical Center CEO Bob Malte serves lunch to employee Suzie Schandl during the hospital’s Summerfest employee-appreciation event on Aug. 12.
For each job opening at Puget Sound-area health-care providers, there’s often a stack of applications to match it.
No wonder. Local health-care employers have an attractive range of options for hiring and retention.
Perks. Benefits. Bonuses. No matter what you call them, workplace enhancements are important to “employee engagement” — plans that promote worker enthusiasm and benefit the entire organization, according to Meg Steele, director of recruitment and employee mobility for Swedish Medical Center.
Other executives agree: Such programs fortify hospitals’ efforts to improve patient care while keeping their bottom line healthy. Here’s a look at some of the extras our area’s health-care employers offer their work force.
Perks for all positions
In many ways, living in the greater Seattle area is a perk in itself, says David Cullen, human resources director for Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Our “climate, schools, recreation, housing — they all sell themselves,” he says.
Effective recruiting is especially important when it comes to hiring nurses in advance of an expected 20-year shortage, says Linda Olmstead, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center’s human resources director.
Perks aren’t limited to those with direct patient care, however.
“Health care is one of the few areas that’s growing in this tough economy, and it’s a good choice for lot of candidates,” Olmstead says. “Hospitals need a lot of people, not just those with a nursing degree. There are positions for people who are not clinicians and who don’t have any direct patient care, [such as] food and nutrition workers, parking people, groundskeepers and maintenance staff.”
Food and fitness
No matter the job, says Valley Medical Center’s Human Resources Director Sue Churchill, staying healthy is important in the work/life balance of hospital employees.
That’s why many employers offer free or discounted wellness programs and healthful dining options. Some offer on-site gyms and swimming pools; others feature fitness-center memberships and discounts for workers (and, in some cases, family members).
At UW Medicine, employees can take advantage of the school’s Intramural Activities Center workout facilities, golf driving range and Waterfront Activities Center.
Valley Medical Center promotes a new weight-management program that rewards workers for losing pounds or maintaining a healthy weight, employment manager Kelly Mannion says. Successful participants earn points that can be redeemed for items through the program’s wellness store.
Some employers offer free smoking-cessation programs and Weight Watchers classes for workers.
Overlake Hospital Medical Center’s new Stanzas Café features a menu highlighting organic foods. Northwest Hospital brings a weekly farmers market to its Northgate-area campus during the summer so workers can buy organic ingredients on-site.
Parking and commuting
Evergreen Hospital Medical Center and others try to help workers balance work/life issues by reducing their time in traffic.
“Our parking is on campus, it’s free and there’s plenty of it,” says Nancy Hamilton, Evergreen’s employment manager. “We have a number of van pools, cash incentives for carpoolers, and locked bike stations with showers nearby. Where else are you going to find free parking 30 yards from the building?”
Commuter Challenge, a nonprofit transit-promotion group, awarded Evergreen its 2010 Diamond Award for reducing commute trips within its work force.
Like Evergreen, most hospitals offer employees discounted or free ORCA transit passes for bus, light-rail, train and ferry commutes.
Training programs
Continuing education and career-building programs come in many sizes and shapes at local health-care facilities.
Group Health Cooperative touts its clinical improvement and prevention classes for physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. At Swedish, the Employee Advancement Center offers staffers confidential one-on-one career-planning sessions, tuition reimbursement, résumé help and more.
Overlake spokeswoman Karen Johnson points to the hospital’s Versant RN program — an 18- to 22-week residency to help recent nursing school graduates ramp up to the systems and practices in a variety of departments.
Recent participants “received 650 hours of one-on-one training with a more experienced nurse,” plus ongoing support from other mentors, to smooth their transition into a new workplace, Johnson says.
Insurance and financial
Few employers have better medical/dental benefits than health-care providers. Most offer 100 percent coverage with low or no co-payments to those who work at least 36 hours a week — and the benefits can begin as soon as the first day of the month following an employee’s hire date.
Other financial perks are as individual as the hospitals.
Swedish offers 401(k) retirement plans and 403(b) plans for extra retirement savings through tax-deferred payroll deductions. UW Medicine’s website invites staffers to consider its employer-assisted Hometown Home Loan program.
At Evergreen, Hamilton encourages staffers to explore the “reasonable rates available for life insurance programs that also allow a spouse to get group rates, which is quite unique.”
Steven Hurwitz, vice president of human resources at Seattle Children’s, says his organization is the region’s only health-care employer that provides an incentive program for every one of its employees.
Several hospitals reward staff members who successfully refer a new employee. At Overlake, employees earn a $10,000 bonus for referring a qualified, full-time primary-care physician if the physician is hired.
At Valley Medical Center, an employer-sponsored pension plan encourages retention by making those who have worked there at least 1,000 hours over three years eligible, according to Mannion. Employees also are able to contribute additional money to the plan.
Company culture
Other perks are harder to measure. Flexible schedules with variable shift lengths appeal to some workers. Others are drawn to on-site child-care services like those available at Northwest Hospital, which also has outdoor summer concerts for employees and visitors.
To help employees make the most of their free time, some hospitals offer discount tickets for snow skiing at The Summit at Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass.
The tangible perks are nice, but some workers consider the culture and reputation of a workplace a bigger benefit.
Virginia Mason Medical Center prides itself not only in its 90-year history but also in leadership at Bailey-Boushay House, the country’s first skilled nursing facility for people with AIDS.
Overlake rewards staff with its “Bravo program recognitions for those who go above and beyond,” Johnson says.
Those at Evergreen feel a “genuine friendliness” throughout the campus, starting with a CEO who, like his predecessor, is learning the names of all 3,300 employees, Hamilton says.
Hurwitz says Seattle Children’s ability to weather the rough economy “without a single layoff — providing our people a good sense of job security” — is part of its reputation.
Opportunities for the future can be a perk, too. “A recent dramatic period of growth” has lifted Seattle Children’s Research Institute into the top five pediatric research institutions in national funding, says Cullen.
And Hurwitz points to the hospital’s expected growth over the next 10-15 years, which should mean “serving two to three times as many families during that period.”
Steele, of Swedish, says that at the end of a workweek, the perks are nice but “employees will find the greatest personal and professional satisfaction” if they buy into the long-term mission and the day-to-day culture of their employer.

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