Local hospital workers – who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years – got a dose of good news Thursday. Novant Health, the Wilmington area’s largest health care provider and largest employer, said it is giving full-time employees an extra week of paid time off or the cash equivalent.
Novant Health President and CEO Carl Armato said the Winston-Salem-based private, not-for-profit health care system is making a $40 million investment in the one-time benefits. Novant employs nearly 8,500 full-time workers at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Novant Brunswick Medical Center and Pender Memorial Hospital as well as dozens of clinics and other local facilities.
“The pandemic has highlighted our commitment to our people credo, which states that our business is the care of all people, starting with our team members,” Armato said in a news release. “We recognize that we must care for our team members first so that they are able to care for others.”
From working extra hours to routinely being at risk of exposure to the virus, the pandemic continues to strain and challenge hospitals. The highly contagious omicron variant has made health care workers and their families even more vulnerable.
“From the team member who had to take off an unexpected week to home-school their child – to the team member who took a week off to recover from illness but didn’t get to see the family they wanted – all team members should have needed time to prioritize their well-being and focus on self-care,” Armato said.
Novant officials said that since January 2021, the system has invested more than $300 million in team members through salary increases, benefits, bonuses and incentives.
“We have very dedicated team members, many of whom are entering the third year of the pandemic,” Novant chief people officer Carmen Canales said during a Thursday afternoon briefing with members of the media. “And so, we believe that it’s important to offer choices so that people can take some extra time off if they themselves are recovering from illness or to balance the well-being or needs of their family.”
Canales, who also is a Novant senior vice president, said for some employees the cash equivalent is more important at this time.
As for the timing, Canales said the move announced Thursday was on top of an ongoing effort to recognize and incentivize employees.
“As we got to the end of the year and realized that we were continuing with another variant, there was an opportunity to consider what else we could do,” she said.
The news release stated that all Novant Health employees assistant director level and below are eligible and that part-time workers will receive an additional 24 hours of paid time off or the cash equivalent.
During the week of Jan. 17, the average daily number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized at NHRMC was 89. According to federal data, COVID-related hospitalizations in New Hanover County are up 7% from two weeks ago; New Hanover County’s average daily test-positivity rate is 34%; and there have been 15 COVID-related deaths.