Will extra pay help them stay? Metro hospitals offering cash incentives ahead of divisive vaccine mandate


DES MOINES, Iowa — Soon, all health care workers at the Des Moines metro’s three health care systems will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, otherwise they will be asked to resign or face termination.

The Nov. 1 deadline is a pivotal point for Broadlawns Medical Center, MercyOne and UnityPoint Health, which are already short on staff due to pandemic burnout. Fallout over the vaccine mandate could stress health care systems even more.

Former nurse Libby Maher quit her job as a registered nurse at a Des Moines hospital this summer. “We were leaving in flocks at least every day. Some floors were losing a nurse or two,” she describes. On the floor where Maher used to work for seven years, she says full staff meant one nurse to four patients, but now with fewer nurses she says the ratio is one to eight.

“You may miss something on their assessment that you might otherwise picked up on if you had more time in there. It’s dangerous,” she says.

Broadlawns Medical Center, MercyOne and UnityPoint Health say they have all experienced turnover in the last 12 months of the pandemic.

Earlier this month, UnityPoint Health released a statement to WHO 13 News that read in part:

“UnityPoint Health is taking important steps to help retain and attract talented nurses and other health professionals. These include new retention bonuses, shift differential payments, expanded referral bonuses and expansion of the internal nurse float pool to reduce dependence on traveler programs.”

UnityPoint Health

Internal documents obtained by WHO 13 News from a current UnityPoint Health nurse show the health care system’s CEO, David Stark, and Chief Nurse Executive, Denise Cundy, announcing the health care system’s retention bonus and shift differential payment plan. In the email sent to staff, it describes the retention bonus as a reward to tenured nurses, respiratory therapists and patient care techs for the work they’ve done and for the critical work ahead. Depending on the position and tenure, those employees could earn a minimum of $2 extra per hour up to $7.50 per hour. The document shows only nurses, respirator therapists and patient care techs will get the bonuses because of the greatest needs in those areas. It also details how health care professionals could see a boost in pay if they volunteer to work “hard to fill” shifts like evenings, nights and weekends.

Despite the documents pointing to certain health care employees being eligible for the extra benefits, UnityPoint Health tells WHO 13 News “retention and recruitment efforts are being made across the entire healthcare system and are continually evolving.” The start date of the retention and shift differential program is slated to begin in October. However, UnityPoint says the bonuses will be paid out at the end of the year.

Maher says a retention bonus would have been nice at the hospital where she formerly worked as a nurse but fears this gesture is too late and too small to keep nurses for the long haul.

“I think everyone is just burnt out,” Maher said.

MercyOne says it continually evaluates its pay and benefits and strives to make sure colleagues are engaged and know that their contributions are valued. In a statement it adds:

“We want to ensure we are able to recruit the nurses needed to continue to provide high quality care to our patients and strive to make sure colleagues are engaged and know that their contribution to our mission is valued.”


Broadlawns Medical Center tells WHO 13 News:

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Broadlawns has offered some targeted shift bonuses. Broadlawns is currently exploring options to ensure that we remain competitive and retain our talented nursing staff.”

Broadlawns Medical Center

On top of its retention and shift differential plans, UnityPoint Health says it has expanded its referral bonus program and is revamping and implementing new solutions on current efforts like its partnership with staff placement agencies to help quickly fill clinical openings.

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