Providence invests $220M to bolster, retain workforce amid nationwide labor shortage

A COVID-19 patient is pushed in a wheelchair by a Providence clinician after recovering from the virus
Providence said $220 million will help address its 17,000 job openings and retain the 120,000-plus employees currently under its banner. (Providence)

Providence has slated more than $220 million toward hiring and retaining more healthcare professionals.

From sign-on incentives to organizationwide bonuses, the large nonprofit system’s new investment looks to head off a nationwide shortage of nurses and other healthcare employees that has left many organizations struggling to treat an influx of COVID-19 patients.

"Our caregivers are the core of who we are, and we have been committed to supporting their health and well-being throughout the pandemic,” President and CEO Rod Hochman, M.D., said in a statement. “Now, as we enter month 21 of our COVID-19 response, it's even more imperative to continue to care for and bolster those who make our mission possible."

According to Chief People Officer Greg Till, Providence will be accelerating its recruitment with "competitive" sign-on bonuses for more than 40% of its 17,000 job openings. For highly competitive positions such as nurses, these bonuses will range from $7,500 to $20,000, he said.

The system said in the announcement that it will also roll out referral bonuses for existing staff ranging from $1,000 to $7,500, depending on the position.

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"While our current workforce is incredibly committed, COVID surges, labor shortages across the country, and increasing attrition are taking their toll and creating an unsustainable burden on our caregivers," Till told Fierce Healthcare.

To retain the more than 120,000 employees currently under its banner, the 52-hospital system said it will be giving out a $1,000 bonus to all employees up to the director level who have been at Providence for at least 90 days.

These will be paid out across two installments in September and December, the system said, and will also apply to part-time or per diem staff who work at least 20 hours per week (albeit at a corresponding percentage).

The $220 million investment will also be used to support workforce development initiatives and make adjustments to employee pay “where needed,” an effort the system noted will be primarily focused on those currently in lower paid positions.

Providence took the time in its announcement to highlight some of its existing benefits package offerings—for instance, free or discounted healthcare premiums for those with household incomes up to four times the federal poverty level—and stressed that they will remain in place going forward.

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In August, Providence posted a net loss of $94 million for the first half of its fiscal year, part of which the system said was due to higher expenses for temporary staffing.

High outpatient and inpatient admissions drove a 7% year-over-year increase to $13.4 billion in operating revenue for the first half, although this fell below its $13.5 billion in operating expenses (a 6% year-over-year increase).

Similar trends were prevalent across the second-quarter earnings season, with nonprofit and for-profit provider organizations alike warning of workforce expenses rising in tandem with resurging COVID-19 cases.

As a result, recruiting and retention investments like Providence’s seem to be picking up steam across the industry. Two recent surveys of hospital and health system leaders from Aon and McKinsey both suggested more organizations are looking at these types of strategies as vacancies and turnover rates continue to trend upward.