Story by Dan Margolies, KCUR
Two major regional hospital networks have announced they’ve raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Stormont Vail Health in Topeka said its wage hike, which affects nearly 900 of its more than 5,000 employees, took effect last week.
And Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City said its wage increase took effect on Nov. 8. Nearly 2,000 of the health system’s more than 12,000 employees were affected.
The increases come as hospitals fight staff shortages while their workers deal with the stress and increased workloads caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each Saint Luke’s employee plays a vital role in our mission of delivering excellence in health care,” Dr. Melinda Estes, president and CEO of Saint Luke’s, said in a statement. “That has never been clearer than during these long months of the COVID pandemic.”
The wage hikes at both hospital networks had been in the works before the pandemic hit. Stormont Vail raised its minimum wage from roughly $10 an hour to $12.45 an hour last year, with the goal of raising it to $15 this year.
Saint Luke’s also had been wanting to hike its minimum wage for a while, said Doris Rogers, a senior vice president and chief human resources officer for the health system.
“It’s always been a goal of our organization, and we’ve been taking small steps towards this for some time,” she said. “And this just seemed like the right thing to do at the right time.”
Rogers said that while the pandemic was not the impetus for the increase, “this is a way to show our appreciation and support for all they’ve done during this pandemic and during this time, so that’s how it played into it.”
Darlene Stone, Stormont Vail’s director of human resources, said many of the affected hourly employees are entry-level workers who, before the wage hikes, were working other jobs.
“Before we did this, many of our team members were working two or three jobs to make ends meet,” Stone said. “And I remember when I introduced this to our childcare center staff and they said, ‘What do you mean?’ When I explained over and over again that your new rate — $12.45 last year and $15 this year — there were tears in their eyes. It was just overwhelming.”
Stormont Vail’s hike to $15 an hour is more than double the Kansas minimum wage of $7.25. And the increase at Saint Luke’s considerably exceeds Missouri’s minimum wage of $9.45. It also surpasses the $12 minimum wage Missouri voters approved in 2018 and which takes effect in 2023.
Laurel Gifford, a spokeswoman for Saint Luke’s, was unable to say what the average hourly pay at Saint Luke’s was before the wage hike. But she said the majority of affected employees are front-line workers such as nursing and medical assistants, and providers of environmental, patient transport and nutrition services.
Stone said the wage increase will cost Stormont Vail $1.8 million annually. Gifford was unable to say what it would cost Saint Luke’s.
“We have never been busier,” Stone said. “We have never been more stressed. We’ve never been challenged more to be creative and think outside the box to provide outstanding care to our community.”
In April, Stormont Vail slashed pay for many employees to try to weather the financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Except for health workers doing “face-to-face” patient care in the hospital’s acute care and ambulatory settings, employees saw cuts in base pay ranging from 10% to 50%.
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