SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Sanford Health is launching a plan to support many of its employees amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sioux Falls-based health system’s aid effort, dubbed the Sanford Family Stability Plan, mainly targets hourly employees. It includes a one-time cash bonus of up to $300, paid health care premiums through June and flexibility with paid time off.

The aid plan is meant to help employees of Sanford Health as the pandemic tightens its grip on daily life within the health system’s footprint, stressing many workers, said Bill Gassen, Sanford Health chief administrative officer. Sanford Health has nearly 49,000 employees and 44 hospitals, including major medical centers in Fargo, Bismarck, Sioux Falls and Bemidji, Minn.

The additional pay will be included in employees’ April 17 paycheck.

“The end point of that is that our employees would know that we care about them, we’re trying to be proactive, and we just don’t want them to have to be worrying about those things in a time like this,” he said.

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For hourly employees, the plan’s benefits include:

  • A one-time bonus: $300 for full-time, $150 for part-time and $50 for those classified as PRN, or fill-in workers.

  • For those covered by the Sanford Health Plan, all premiums paid for April, May and June.

  • Paid time off flexibility: if employees’ hours are cut or they’re called off work, they don’t have to use banked paid time-off for scheduled hours missed.

All employees are eligible for the Employee Crisis Fund and the PTO Donation Fund, to which employees can donate time-off for the use of others. Gassen said the system is starting a campaign to raise donations for both funds.

“We’ve had a number of our exempt employees -- our leaders, our executives, our physicians -- come forward already in a very proactive way asking, ‘What can we do to help?’” Gassen said.

Sanford is covering health premiums for its health plan through June because that’s how long they expect the “period of uncertainty” to last, based on internal analysis and external consultations.

“We really wanted to step forward in a sign of appreciation and let them know that, over the next few months, we just didn’t want them to worry about things as important and core as their personal health care,” Gassen said.

No layoffs planned

Sanford Health does not have any plans to lay off employees in spite of a sharp decline in patient volumes as the health provider has scaled back to guard against spreading the coronavirus infection and to prepare for a possible surge of hospital patients.

Gassen said Tuesday that the health system believes that preparations, including cutting costs, appear adequate to avoid layoffs.

"At this point in time we're really hoping that we don't have to do that," Gassen said. "We're taking proactive measures as much as we can."

Some health systems, including Essentia Health, have been forced to lay off employees. Essentia announced Monday that it is placing about 500 of its 14,500 employees in four states -- Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Idaho -- on "special administrative leave."

Given the uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic, it's difficult to predict what the financial impact will be as the slowdown continues, which have decreased patient volumes in the range of 30% to 40%, Gassen said.

"Right now we feel really good about our preparedness," he said.

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