Scott County Hospital will raise its starting wage for full-time employees by more than $3 this summer in an effort to better support its staff.

The change — a starting pay increase from $8.81 to $12 — will take effect July 1 and largely impact full-time, entry-level support staff positions, including maintenance, housekeeping and laundry workers, kitchen staff, file clerks and receptionists, among other employees, and some medical roles like phlebotomists and certified nursing assistants, said Mark Burnett, Scott County Hospital CEO.

Dozens of the hospital’s roughly 180 full-time employees will be rolled into the new pay grade, and about 30 will see wage increases, Burnett said. Many of those employees already earn more than $8.81 an hour, he said.

According to 2017 wage reports from the Kansas Department of Labor, the $12 starting wage will be well above average entry-level wages for support positions in both southwest Kansas and the state. Wages for entry-level maintenance, housekeeping, kitchen, laundry and filing positions often came in under $10 per hour and those for receptionists, phlebotomists, CNAs and healthcare support occupations largely came in under $11.

The choice to up employees’ income is less about recruitment than it is about the quality of life of current employees, Burnett said. It was based on the hope to support and stabilize the hospital’s workforce, ideally eliminating the need to go after other slightly better-paying jobs, he said.

“If you’re making $10 an hour, that’s not a lot of money to live on. We wanted to make sure our staff had an entry point that was not just competitive, but was hopefully a living wage…” Burnett said. “It’s just the right thing to do. If we could have afforded to raise it more, we would have.”

The raises will be new expenses, added to the budget based on the hospital’s end of year finances, Burnett said. Like many hospital projects or costs, the raises will be paid with money generated from the campus, not from taxpayer funds, he said.

The new wage clearly will not affect higher-paid employees, like doctors or nurses, but hopefully does send a message to all current and prospective employees that the hospital values its employees and is relatively financially successful, Burnett said.

“We’re not rolling in money … We could have spent it on equipment, we could have spent it on bad debt. You can put it anywhere you want to,” Burnett said. “But where is it going to have the most impact that does the most good? It’s your workforce. You got to take care of your workforce. If you don’t care about them, they’re not going to care about you, ultimately.”

The move is significant among area hospitals. Entry-level pay for kitchen, laundry and housekeeping workers at Kearny County Hospital is $9.30 an hour, said Benjamin Anderson, the hospital’s CEO. Scott County Hospital’s raise is “awesome,” he said, and similar raises are a longterm goal at Kearny. As the biggest employer in the county, helping sustain employees directly impacts the community, he said.

But with extremely tight funds brought on in part by uncompensated care — itself a symptom of poverty — and some costly services, immediate options are limited. Wages could be increased if certain services, and therefore jobs, were cut, or if more profitable services, like surgery and imaging, were added, he said. Medicaid expansion would help, as would potential tax appropriations.

The steps forward involve striking a balance between community and staff needs — between available services and a living wage.

“I worry that there are employees living in unhealthy social situations for financial reasons…” Anderson said. “We understand the responsibility we have to increase minimum wage and we’re trying to figure out how to do that when we have 18 days of cash on hand.”

Thomas Hauer, executive director of human resources at St. Catherine Hospital, declined, as a practice, to share entry-level wages for similar positions, but said in an email St. Catherine is “committed to offering a fair and competitive compensation package” for employees. Salaries are reviewed annually and have been “well above” the Kansas minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for years, he said.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.