Hospital hiring, benefits accelerating as pandemic financial stress winds down

As demand surges, hospitals have boosted hiring in contrast to the pandemic furloughs and layoffs.

Hospitals have begun rebuilding their ranks as hiring booms and benefits are bolstered after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns led to financial stress for the institutions.

According to a news release, the 2021 Benefits Survey of Hospitals from professional services firm Aon found that 40 percent of surveyed hospitals have accelerated hiring in an effort to meet the surging demand for medical services after the pandemic lockdowns. A further 36 percentsay they’re planning for normal hiring, while 24 percent say they are being cautious, delaying, or issuing a hiring freeze.

The Benefits Survey of Hospitals looked at responses from hospital employers between April and June 2021. It compiles results of participating benefit plans for more than 2.4 million health system employees at 1,150 hospitals across the U.S., the release says.

The moves strike a stark contrast to the cost-cutting measures hospitals implemented in 2020 during the heart of the pandemic lockdowns. At that time, 54 percent had instituted furloughs, 45 percent laid off workers, 14 percent suspended 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan contributions, and 10 percent employed voluntary separation programs, the release says.

“The top priority in 2020 was to mitigate rising costs for the employer—understandably, given the financial shock that health systems were reeling from,” Sheena Singh, senior vice president of Aon’s national healthcare industry practice, says in the release. “Now, the pandemic has exacerbated a labor shortage that could impact patient care delivery, delay attainment of organizational objectives and accelerate burnout among clinical staff.”

Some of the top concerns expressed by responding health system employers include:

  • employee burnout/workforce resiliency (77 percent)
  • employee work/life balance (76 percent)
  • financial stress for employees (75 percent)
  • benefits to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (73 percent)

Hospitals are adopting beefier benefits packages in an effort for lure in staff with the average health benefit per hospital employee per year projected to grow by 2.7 percent to %15,133 in 2021 from $14,466 in 2020. A further 77 percent of hospitals say they aim to pay 76 percent or more of their employees’ health care costs and 23 percent offer a no-cost health plan option to segment of their employee population. Another 85 percent of the surveyed systems say they provide employees a discount via plan design to access their own facilities and providers, according to the release.

Other enhanced benefits being provided by hospitals include:

  • 94 percent offering tuition reimbursement programs
  • 69 percent offering flexible work options (an additional 30 percent are considering adding this option)
  • 66 percent offering cash-out vacation policies
  • 45 percent offering adoption benefits
  • 36 percent offering gender-affirming surgery
  • 33 percent offering on-site daycare
  • 32 percent offering student loan repayment plans (an additional 40 percent are considering this option)
  • 31 percent offering back-up childcare
  • 23 percent offering back-up elder care

“Attracting and retaining talent remains a top priority and health systems have prioritized benefits as a mechanism to reward their workforce,” Singh says “This is a trend that will continue with a shortage of qualified health professionals and rising demand for health care services, as these organizations seek to build a resilient workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”