Addressing Social Determinants for Employees

Addressing Social Determinants for Employees

A children’s hospital commits resources to support and empower employees affected by social determinants of health.
Person paying bills.

Along with many children’s hospitals around the country, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska is working to improve outcomes through initiatives outside the hospital’s walls. Key among them is assisting patients and their families who have needs related to social determinants of health.

While engaging in that work, it occurred to hospital leaders that those needs may reside within its walls, too.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What if we have individuals here who are having the same experiences?’” says Janel Allen, executive vice president and chief people officer at Children’s. “Our HR team came together with the community health and advocacy team here and asked what we could do.’”

The initial answer to that question was to ascertain employee needs. Allen and her team conducted a confidential survey of all non-physician team members; more than a thousand responded. Their answers included some eye-opening results:

  • Employees from four departments reported food insecurity; one group had more than a third of its team members cite food security concerns.
  • More than a quarter of staffers from one department were worried about losing housing.
  • Workers in seven of the hospital’s departments missed a medical appointment or living necessity due to a lack of transportation.

“We learned that we had individuals who had needs,” Allen says. “And when we said we were going to ask, we were also committed to doing something about it.”

That commitment includes both short- and long-term initiatives across a variety of fronts.

Economic. Children’s is investing nearly $2 million annually to raise employee wages. It adjusted its minimum wage to $15 per hour and increased pay for nearly 800 employees. Additionally, it launched a daily pay program to help team members avoid costly payday loans.

Food and transportation. The hospital established a peer support fund where employees may confidentially access $100 gift cards for food or gas as needed.

Community partnerships. Employees can access free resources to address social determinants of health through several relationships Children’s has nurtured locally, including Habitat for Humanity.

Efforts go beyond social determinants

Allen says an important aspect of the employee-focused efforts is that many are universally beneficial, including education assistance, childcare opportunities, flexible work options and well-being interventions. Children’s launched a paid volunteerism program and has deployed an emotional support dog dedicated to staff members.

“There are so many elements we’re doing that will carry forward because they’re not just helping individuals from a social determinants of health perspective, but all team members,” Allen says. “That's what I love about this work—it's just beginning, and it's only going to continue to be core to our mission.”

Allen adds that Children’s will continue to assess employee needs through confidential surveys to ensure the programs are adequately addressing social determinants of health, but early results appear promising. Employee engagement scores are up significantly since the initiatives have launched, including nearly 90% of team members reporting a favorable perception of the hospital’s attentiveness to their well-being. Retention metrics are up as well—first-year retention rates rose about five points to 70% in the past year, with overall employee retention now up to 85%.

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