St. Joseph Employees Donate Paid Time Off to Worthy Charities

John Commins, June 14, 2010

St. Joseph Health System in Orange, CA, has created a new program that allows employees to donate the cash equivalent of their paid time off (PTO) to charity. The PTO Donation Program was launched in March at the behest of employees to help the people of earthquake-stricken Haiti. So far, it has raised about $25,000.

In addition to the international relief, employees can donate their PTO closer to home to fellow employees who may be suffering from catastrophic illnesses or injuries, or economic hardship.

"It's a demonstration of the type of employees we have who are in alignment with the mission and values we have," says Debbie Ortega, vice president of human resources at St. Joseph. "I'm always amazed how every time our employees step forward and ask, 'How can we help?' We are really fortunate to have employees who are in alignment with our ministries."

Between vacations, sick days, and personal time, employees at St. Joseph average about 20 PTO days per year. Of that, up to 80 hours of unused PTO can be paid back to employees each year. That's why the donation program requires that employees accrue more than 80 hours of PTO before they can donate. "We want to keep that balance so that in the event that something should happen to them—some unforeseen circumstances—that they have a bank for themselves," Ortega says. "It's a protection layer for employers for things that might be unexpected."

On average, Ortega says participating employees donate about 16 hours to the program, which they can sign up for online. Once they authorize the deduction, the money is sent to either Catholic Relief Services or Doctors Without Borders—the two charity organizations that St. Joseph has determined can best use the funds in Haiti.

The donation is tax deductible, which provides another incentive to give. Once they decided on creating the program, Ortega says it was "relatively easy" to set up.

"Obviously we sought legal advice on the taxation issue so we didn't jeopardize our current PTO plans," Ortega says. "It's fairly easy to initiate when we know that—in the event that there is unfortunate situation—we have a process by which we can act and assist those in need."

Ortega says the program is getting a lot of "favorable feedback" from employees. "They are pretty positive about the opportunity to have programs that are tailored for them and their own needs and what they can do to extend their generosity," she says.

Ortega says she'd be happy to speak with anyone who wants to start a program at their hospitals. She can be reached at

"I would love to be able to share this with folks," she says.

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John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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