EagleHerald Staff Writers

MARINETTE—The strain of COVID-19 on healthcare workers is prompting employers to increase incentives to recruit and retain employees.

Research literature demonstrates consistent findings of stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms among healthcare workers in relation to the increased burdens of COVID, according to a September 2020 study published in The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. Numerous studies have found anxiety among healthcare workers to be related to patient care and concerns about infecting their families.

The pandemic also exacerbated trends that were already putting a strain on the healthcare workforce.

According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s 2020 Health Care Workforce Report, among the most notable of these challenges is the phenomenon known as the “Silver Tsunami,” or the increasing demand for healthcare services by an aging population. This increase has coincided with the disproportionate retirement of healthcare professionals compared to the number of new workers entering the healthcare field.

Employers in the healthcare industry have implemented strategies such as wage increases in response to these challenges.

The nonprofit healthcare system Advocate Aurora Health announced Nov. 11 that it will raise its minimum hourly wage from $15 to $18 for full-time employees beginning Dec. 5.

The wage increase will impact approximately 10,800 team members across the network, according to a press release. About 20,000 employees who already make more than $18 will also receive raises.

During the pandemic, Aurora Health Care also introduced other incentives such as special COVID pay for its employees working on the frontline, family care reimbursement, lodging accommodation and recognition bonuses. In addition, the healthcare system expanded its employer-sponsored access to mental health professionals for employees.

“Our team members have really shown selflessness throughout the pandemic,” Vice President of Human Resources at Aurora Health Care Beth Kirby said in an email to the EagleHerald. “They are constantly helping out fellow team members, patients and the community. They have been picking up shifts and doing random acts of kindness that have truly been amazing.”

Bellin Health similarly increased stipends during the pandemic for employees who work evening, overnight and weekend shifts and implemented an early annual wage increase this year. In addition, Bellin Health will be paying a thank-you bonus to all frontline and support staff around Thanksgiving.

Some drug stores are also offering incentives to recruit and retain employees.

Walgreens, for instance, is recruiting pharmacy and retail team members nationwide to support the administering of COVID vaccines and tests as well as routine vaccinations such as the flu shot.

To entice potential recruits, Walgreens is offering various incentives, including a $1,250 sign-on bonus for full and part-time pharmacy technicians hired through the end of December. In September, the company gave out a one-time bonus of $1,250 to full-time pharmacists and $1,000 to part-time pharmacists and is extending a $1,000 bonus through a six-month retention period to pharmacy technicians who are certified or become certified to administer flu and COVID vaccines.

Walgreens also announced in September that it would increase its starting hourly wage to $15 per hour. The increase began in October and will take effect in phases through November 2022.

In addition, the drug store introduced new roles to alleviate pressure in pharmacy operations. The pharmacy operations manager position, for instance, takes on pharmacy technician and non-pharmacist staff, non-clinical and workflow management to allow pharmacy managers—all registered pharmacists—to focus on patient care.

“I am extremely proud and grateful of the work our team members are doing across our 9,000 Walgreens locations serving our customers, patients and communities each and every day,” CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance Roz Brewer said in a press release. “Investing in and rewarding our team members is not only the right thing to do, it’s highly important to retaining and attracting a talented workforce, and to continuing to serve our critical role in community health care.”