Delaware hospitals are enticing nurses with luxury vacations and $25K. Will it get them to stay? (2023)

Meredith Newman|Delaware News Journal

Delaware hospitals are enticing nurses with luxury vacations and $25K. Will it get them to stay? (1)

Delaware hospitals are enticing nurses with luxury vacations and $25K. Will it get them to stay? (2)

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This story has been updated.

Want a chance to win a three-day trip for two to the Bahamas, including round-tripairfare,car service and luxury accommodations?

There are only two requirements: You have to apply for a job in Bayhealth’s part-time weekend program, and you need to have at least two years of clinicalexperience.

Hospitalshave, for months, been offering significant signing bonuses to entice applicants. Now, Delaware hospitals appear to be upping the ante to recruit –and retain –health care workers.

ChristianaCare, the largest health system in the state, recently announced one of the biggest retention benefits to date: a $25,000 bonusfor some of its nurses and health care workers on the condition they stay for two years.

For months, the hospital has been offering a $10,000 sign-onbonus to help fill most open nursing positions.

Delaware hospitals continue to operate in crisis mode, even though the state has passed its peak of this latest COVID-19 surge. Staffing levels got so low in recent weeks that hospitals pleadedfor people to volunteer to fill clinical and nonclinical positions.

These staffing issues have been bubbling under the surface for years, exploding now as Delaware enters its third year of the pandemic. The issue is not that there is a lack of nurses to fill the openings: It’s that many are tired, fed up and leaving the bedside.

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There also has been a growing resentment among some hospital nurses who have stayed, according to interviews with Delaware nurses. For most of the pandemic, the only significant financial incentive many have been offered is the opportunity to pick up extra shifts.

When some have asked about the opportunity of retention bonuses or benefits in recent weeks, these nurses said, their supervisors looked at them with confused faces.

These nurses are working alongside new hires who scored a five-figure signing bonus, or travel nurses, who earn more than $100 an hour.

“If the pool of licensed professional nurses in Delaware is getting smaller … we're just going to be battling each other over a smaller pool of nurses,” said Christopher Otto, executive director of the Delaware Nurses Association.

“We need to focus on keeping and retaining the nurses that we have right now, sort of closing those floodgates.”

Nurses are leaving the hospital bedside due to burnout or for better financial opportunities at other hospitals. Others are simply quitting the industry. The surge of the omicron variant has resulted in hospital workers, not just nurses, becoming exposed to the virus and testing positive, making many unable to work.

To fill empty positions, hospitals have resorted to asking for volunteers to help fill in clinical and nonclinical roles, ranging from unarmed security to cleaning hospital rooms. Health systems are also relying on National Guard membersas staffing issues persist.

There are 186 National Guard members working at Delaware’s hospitals, primarily helping with nonclinical tasks like stocking shelves, transporting patients and answering phones.

Late last year, Delaware provided hospitals with $25 million in federal funding to help with the retention and recruitment of hospital workers. Much of this money was expected to go toward the recruitment of nurses, according to hospitals’ proposals to the state.

When Delaware Online/The News Journal asked each acute care hospital how it was using its federal money on retention efforts, none provided specifics.

Wayne Smith, president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association, also would not provide specifics, but said in a statement that the federal funds are being used in a “variety of recruitment and retention activities that vary from hospital to hospital, based on need in their local market.”

“While the package of support in no way fully compensates hospitals and other health facilities for the dramatic unbudgeted and unexpected increase in costs the market is now presenting, it has been very helpful for the short-term,” he added.

Many hospitals are advertising recruitment opportunities, yet it’s unclear if they are providing any retention benefits to employees who have worked throughout the pandemic.

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Bayhealth launched a student loan repayment program, in which recent graduates can have up to $30,000 of their loans repaid — on the condition that these new hires stay with Bayhealth for three years.

This applies only to those who have graduated since 2021, according to a hospital spokesman. The health system “continues to explore additional ways to honor our existing staff while attracting new talent to help our dedicated team members carry out our life-saving mission.”

The spokesman did not detail any retention efforts for current employees. New hires have the chance of receiving an $8,000 signing bonus.

Some hospitals are offering benefits to current employees.Late last year, Beebe Healthcare provided paid time off, bonuses, a market-rate increase and insurance premium discounts to some employees, Dr. David Tam, hospital CEO, said in a statement.

Two TidalHealth nurses told The News Journal that the hospital offered them about a $1,000 bonus and a market-rate salary increase.

The News Journal is not publishing the names of nurses interviewed for this story due to their concern that speaking about their working conditions will result in them getting disciplined orfired.

For one of these nurses, her hourly rate increased, a welcomed surprise since the longtime nurse had already reached the maximum salary.

“I think administrators are doing the best that they can to try to express to the staff that are there that we are appreciated,” the TidalHealth nurse said.

The hospital is offering a $20,000 signing bonus as well as scholarships, loan repayments and living stipends for certain positions.

“It has always been our desire to not only bring into our health system family the best people for the positions but also to retain them,” TidalHealth spokesman Roger Follebout said in a statement.

ChristianaCare's $25,000 retention bonus for some current full-time nurses and health care workers is dependent on them staying at the hospital for at least two years.

“Over the last two years, our department has been challenged in ways that we have never experienced before," hospital officials wrote in a Jan. 31 email, which was obtained by The News Journal.

"In addition to increased workload demands, we have also experienced unprecedented turnover coupled with hiring challenges, which has undoubtedly had an impact on your overall experience," according to the email.

This retention bonus will give the hospital “time to weather the continued impacts of the pandemic while determining ways to enhance your caregiver experience,” theemail read.

Chris Cowan, senior vice president of human resources, confirmed in a statement that the health system began to offer a “retention bonus to stabilize specific positions in which turnover and recruitment are especially challenging, as health care organizations compete for hard-to-fill positions.”

In addition to 24/7 bedside nurses, the bonus applied to HomeHealth RNs and LPNs, medical laboratory scientistsand respiratory therapists, among several other types of positions.

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The retention bonus is not available to all nurses. One longtime ChristianaCare nurse, who works part time, said the recent announcement made her angry.

It’s been difficult watching the hospital pay for travel nurses at high rates, while seeing colleagues leave out of exhaustion or for better opportunities, she said. And now, the hospital’s major retention benefit doesn’t apply to her.

“I am tired of being walked on,” she wrote in an email. “It’s like a slap in the face and the hits just keep coming.”

Another nurse, who works full time, isn’t sure she’ll take the bonus. She’s been actively looking for a new job, one that doesn’t involve being at the hospital bedside. Though staffing has gotten better in recent weeks, it still remains inadequate, this nurse said.

Mostly, she wants to leave because she’s tired of being physically and verbally abused by patients.

The retention bonus –and sticking it out for two years –isn’t worth it.

Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 256-2466 or at mnewman@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MereNewman.

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