Trisha Dean

Avera Respiratory Therapist Trisha Dean poses for a picture while wearing a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR).  

More than four million Americans quit their jobs in August, according to an Oct. 12 report from the federal Department of Labor. Making today the time to focus on investing in people, Avera St. Mary’s Hospital President and Chief Medical Officer Mikel Holland told the Capital Journal.

“We know that healthcare, just like so many other industries, (is) struggling with workforce and struggling to find employees and retain employees,” Holland said. “This was kind of a proactive approach to addressing that... Investing in buildings, facilities, equipment and people, clearly this is the time where, of the three, you’re going to focus on people.”

The “proactive approach” Holland refers to is Avera’s systemwide $50 million workforce investment announced on Oct. 6. In a press release from the same day, the company stated that “(t)he Upper Midwest as well as the entire nation are in the midst of a pandemic-driven workforce shortage. Health care is a people-centered industry, so Avera depends on a capable, well-trained and compassionate workforce to carry out its services.”

The release listed 40 hours of front-loaded paid time off for new hires (rather than having to accrue PTO over time), pay increases of at least $2 per hour for current employees (“some positions may receive a higher increase based on market”) and appreciation gifts among areas the investment would fund. Holland said the idea for the investment developed “very quickly” throughout this summer and fall, during which it became “quite evident” that action was necessary.

“It takes a bit of time to put it together and make sure that our finance team and our human resources team and everybody’s on the same page,” Holland said. “But it came together I would say quite quickly over the last couple of months.”

Avera President and CEO Bob Sutton echoed Holland’s sentiment in the Oct. 6 release that investment in Avera’s employees is vital at this time.

“Avera recognizes that people are our most valued resource. The 20,000 employees of Avera comprise an amazing team,” Sutton said. “Many people have joined Avera because they want to be part of something bigger than themselves and make a positive difference in the lives of others. That’s the Avera mission and we invite like-minded individuals to consider a career with Avera.”

Holland said Monday that the investment is already showing dividends: Avera’s regional facilities, he said, are already seeing a “significant” uptick in applications. Avera administers six regional centers, among them Avera St. Mary’s in Pierre, but also in Mitchell, Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Yankton and Marshall, Minnesota.

“There’s been a number of people that have just reached out and said ‘Thank you,’” Holland said. “It’s clearly an effort that was needed. I think people appreciate the effort, they recognize that Avera is investing in its employees and its workforce. There’s areas where I’m sure people are saying we can do better, and we continue to look at that, but for the most part (the feedback’s) been very positive.”

Holland described Avera’s current retention situation as better than most other healthcare systems nationwide, but noted that a better scenario can always be achieved.

“Retention is something we measure both long-term and in that first-year turnover or first-year retention,” Holland said. “Our goal is to have 80 percent retention both in that first year of employment and long-term or greater.”

Turnover, specifically at Avera St. Mary’s in Pierre, has been largely stable in recent months, Holland said.

“We’re near that (80 percent retention goal) all the time,” Holland said. “We go above it, we go a little bit below it but we’re near it.”

Michael Woodel | 605-224-7301 ext. 131

Load comments