Former ACHE Chair and Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award-winning CEO says it's time to pay healthcare workers for being the warriors they are in the COVID-19 pandemic.
HealthLeaders: What was the genesis behind pushing the idea of hazard pay for frontline healthcare workers?
Rulon Stacey: Two of my University of Colorado Denver colleagues and I started to talk about this. One has a psychology background and one has an HR background. We started to realize what we, as a society, had asked healthcare workers to do here. We needed them to step up and do what they did. They risked everything to get the country through a once-in-a-century situation, and now we watch as many of them may get furloughed. We worry about their risk of being disregarded. We think that they should be compensated for what they did. They stepped up and came through for society. And we think that society should not forget what happened.
HealthLeaders: Hospital financial margins also plummeted during the pandemic. Where would this hazard pay come from?
Stacey: I appreciate you asking that. We believe our argument is that this is a societal issue that these people kept the industry running at a time when the country needed it. Our argument in this op-ed is to elected leaders to not forget who got us through. These people are going to need support. Many of them will have to work through PTSD issues. Many of them will have endured weeks or months away from their families because they didn't want to risk infecting their loved ones. I personally know one worker who lived in an old storage shed for his family. We are here trying to address how to move forward as a society. We need to realize what we put these people through.
(Pictured: Rulon Stacey, Director of Graduate Programs in Health Administration, University of Colorado Denver, and Former ACHE Chair. Photo courtesy of University of Colorado Denver.)
HealthLeaders: Are you proposing retrospective payment of hazard pay to people who were affected the last few weeks? Or that going forward the health system compensation structure should recognize putting those workers at risk?
Stacey: We would argue that the recognition of a disaster from the country should include the fact that we essentially sent some people to war. I hate to draw those strong correlations. I've never been to war, but I think it's akin to a military veteran in the sense that we as a country needed them to step up and they did. And so, I feel like for the group that got us through, that it would be an injustice to just brush them to the side in a few weeks because we feel like we don’t need them anymore. I feel like that would be unrepresentative of who we are as a country.
HealthLeaders: How do you begin to think about compensating them for frontline pay? Is it a percentage of their income? Is it a one-time grant?
Stacey: Although we didn't get into particulars, I think that there must be a recognition of what they went through and the repercussions that will last for a period of time. There are three ways to look at this. The first is what they went through at the moment. The second is what that experience does to somebody's psyche for a period to follow. And the third is now that it's all over, we recognize their risk of being furloughed or laid off or just brushed to the side. And you can imagine if you are one of those doctors or nurses or anyone who came to work knowing that it could kill you. And now knowing that when they don't need you anymore, we're going to shove you to the side.
HealthLeaders: Do you have any sense of the political reception to this idea or are you just putting it out there?
Stacey: We don't, and we specifically didn't want to know the core reception. But we do think that there appears to be discussions on both sides of the aisle toward common solutions in this disaster. And what we would like to think—I believe I speak for my coauthors on this—that in protecting the people who stepped up, that we can reach across the aisles and find a solution to protect them. Because when the country needed them, they were there.
“We started to realize what we, as a society, had asked healthcare workers to do here. We needed them to step up and do what they did. They risked everything to get the country through a once-in-a-century situation ... We think that they should be compensated for what they did. ”
—Rulon Stacey, Director of Graduate Programs in Health Administration, University of Colorado Denver, and Former ACHE Chair
Jim Molpus is an editor for HealthLeaders.