MOULTRIE, Ga. – Healthcare workers are used to the everyday stresses that come from the nature of their work. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has placed unforeseen circumstances on the healthcare industry, and responding to the unknown has become their new normal.
At the end of July 2021 and into September, staff members at Colquitt Regional Medical Center faced a particularly difficult surge in numbers due to the highly-contagious Delta variant. The hospital saw an average of 70-100 people testing positive per day for at least two consecutive weeks. The acuity of the COVID-19 inpatients was also more severe than those during previous surges, resulting in a hospital that was over capacity for weeks.
“Coming off the latest surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers across the globe are facing higher rates of stress and burnout than ever before,” said Colquitt Regional President and CEO Jim Matney. “Our staff members have played a vital role in this fight against COVID-19, and it hasn’t been easy. After 18 months, each person has been affected by this virus in some way, and we have come to realize that COVID burnout and pandemic fatigue are both very much a reality.”
According to a recent study conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA), 49 percent of healthcare workers reported that they had burnout, 43 percent suffered from work overload, and 38 percent self-reported experiencing anxiety or depression. However, the study also reported that the odds of burnout were actually 40 percent lower in those who felt valued by their employer.
The toll that the pandemic has taken on healthcare workers, in addition to financial and employment burdens imposed as a direct result of COVID-19, did not go unnoticed by Matney. As a result, he called on his administrative team to conduct intensive market research and ensure that the hospital was paying salaries that align with those of other similar organizations.
After numerous discussions and data mining, hospital administration made market adjustments to all pay rates that were outside of the range for similar positions in like-sized hospitals. At the same time, they elected to increase the pay rate of all Colquitt Regional and Sterling Physician Group employees by six percent.
“During our research, we looked at other hospitals in Georgia and how our salaries compare to those,” said Vice President of Human Resources Dawn Johns. “Thorough analyses were made and we adjusted any position where there was a salary discrepancy. It is no secret that the cost of living has risen and careers in healthcare have become increasingly more in-demand than ever before. We want to ensure that our employees are well compensated and have an excellent quality of life both at work and at home.”
The hospital also implemented a new pay scale option for those who may not need a full benefits package. Because of shifting workforce demographics, this compensation option was introduced based on employee feedback on how to better meet financial needs and expectations.
“Since the onset of COVID-19, we have had employees leave our organization for similar opportunities,” said Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President of Patient Services Dena Zinker. “Travel nursing has become a popular option where nurses are leaving their hometown hospitals because they are offered more than the hospitals can afford to pay. By adjusting our rates and offering raises across the board, we are hoping to make the decision to remain part of the Colquitt Regional family more desirable. We value the commitment, service, and tireless efforts that our employees put forth daily through their career in healthcare.”
Hospitals across the world have been impacted severely by COVID-19, but rural hospitals, in particular, have been presented with additional obstacles. Smaller hospitals, like Colquitt Regional, have faced limited resources, staffing shortages, and constrained areas for patient care.
“There has never been a more challenging time to work in healthcare,” said Hospital Authority Chairman Richard E. Turner, Jr. “I am tremendously proud of the employees that have continued to provide unprecedented levels of care to our community members throughout this pandemic. For this to be recognized and acknowledged by administration through wage increases is commendable, especially during a time when hospitals are facing decreasing reimbursement rates.”
In addition to a new pay scale, Colquitt Regional also offers a wide variety of benefits for its employees including tuition reimbursement, flexible scheduling, access to a 24/7 employee fitness center, personal training, nutrition coaching, and sign-on bonuses for select positions.
“At the end of the day, we want to ensure that we are competitive and providing our employees with the best experience possible,” said Matney. “We are continuing to look at compensation, scheduling, employee wellness, both physical and mental, and everything else that contributes to a positive work environment. We believe the culture is different at Colquitt Regional and that, coupled with these improved employee benefits, will allow us to attract and retain a high-quality workforce, which is exactly what our patients deserve.”