BY JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Beginning later this month, all Porter Medical Center employees will be making at least $15 an hour.
This new minimum base wage, to take effect July 12, is part of a major effort by one of the county’s largest employers to boost its wages to reflect the latest compensation trends in a health care industry that is struggling to recruit and retain qualified employees.
And in a further attempt to woo prospective workers, Porter is instituting a system of tenure-based bonuses for its workers to go along with cash rewards for the referral of successful new recruits.
“We believe this base pay grade change will make it more financially feasible for people who wish to serve our health care mission to remain with our organization or choose our organization for employment,” PMC President Tom Thomson said in a June 18 memo announcing the move.
“It also is an important action for us as one of our region’s largest employers.”
Some jobs at PMC — which includes the hospital, Helen Porter Rehabilitation & Nursing and a dozen affiliated provider practices — currently pay as little as $13 per hour. This initial base-wage adjustment will span four pay grades and affect more than 200 Porter employees, Thompson told the Independent.
“We will also begin implementing additional pay grade changes to roles where Porter is both below market in pay and where we have recruitment needs,” he said. “These changes will include increases for certain pay grades as well as moving certain positions to new pay grades.”
Some of these adjustments began last month, while others will be implemented with the July 12 pay period.
As of now, PMC has more than 100 job vacancies, according to Porter spokesman Ron Hallman. The organization is taking a multi-faceted approach to filling its ranks, including a collaboration with Patricia Hannaford Career Center on a new course offering aspiring Licensed Nursing Assistants free tuition, a paycheck while they’re studying, and a guaranteed job at Helen Porter after they graduate.
Porter administrators believe they got off to a good start on wage adjustments last year, with negotiation of a new, three-year contract with PMC’s nursing staff. That pact, which took effect Jan. 1, provided step increases and market adjustments totaling 21% over the three years.
“At the time last summer when we entered our union negotiations, we learned the market had moved further away than where we were at with our compensation,” Thompson recalled. “So right out of the gate, with our union leaders, we came out with what I think was a wage package that sure was higher than I’m sure they anticipated us coming out with.”
Porter’s base wage adjustment comes on the heels of what Thompson called a “bottom-to-top assessment of every single role at Porter,” completed by the University of Vermont Health Network’s human resources department. In short, network officials compared Porter job categories to those in the broader state, regional and national health care markets.
“We as team digested that data,” Thompson said. “We did a lot of analysis on how we could make the biggest impact, and do it in a viable manner.”
Porter officials also looked north to UVM Medical Center, which had already moved to a $15 minimum wage.
This move will increase PMC’s annual payroll by more than $400,000, which is also good news for the Addison County economy. Fortunately, Porter administrators anticipated the boost when budgeting fiscal year 2022 spending.
“It’s a sizable impact,” Thompson said. “I think that will be a meaningful implementation.”
Along with giving workers more financial security, officials hope the wage bump will prompt more people to consider health care careers.
“There are a lot of folks here who would like to serve in the health care ministry, but it’s hard for them to do that if they’re making less than $15 an hour,” Thompson acknowledged. “Now, maybe we can be a viable option for them.”
In a further effort to sweeten the pot, PMC is now offering bonuses for those committing to jobs in the toughest-to-fill “allied health” categories. This includes such posts as speech language pathologist, physical therapist, respiratory therapist, surgical technologist, occupational therapy assistant, and licensed nursing assistant.
Under terms of the program, allied health recruits with fewer than three years of experience are eligible for a $3,000 bonus paid in three installments over two years. Recruits with three or more years of experience are eligible for a $5,000 bonus.
And PMC is also offering a $1,000 bonus under similar ground rules for support staff roles — such as nutrition services, environment service staff and office jobs.
Porter will continue to award $500 cash bonuses to employees who refer a successful applicant for a full-time position. That bonus is pro-rated for referral of a successful hopeful for a part-time post.
The organization is prepared to revisit its bonus program during the coming years, according to Thompson.
“We want to make it a living, breathing tool,” he said. “Porter’s commitment to ensure competitive pay and benefits will be ongoing.”
John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.