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Kansas City-based Saint Luke’s Health System raises minimum wage for second time in a year

Creative Commons - Wikimedia
Saint Luke's Health System has raised its minimum wage twice in the last year.

Saint Luke’s was the first area health care provider last year to raise its hourly minimum wage to $15. Now it's raising the minimum to $17.50 and giving a $2,000 "thank you bonus" to all employees.

Less than a year after raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, Saint Luke’s Health System has hiked it again, to $17.50 an hour.

The Kansas City-based hospital network also announced it will pay a $2,000 “thank you bonus” to all employees “in recognition of their hard work and commitment as we’ve managed through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The impetus behind all of this really is to recognize that the last 18, 19 months have been incredibly challenging, especially for everybody in health care,” said Dr. Melinda Estes, president and CEO of Saint Luke’s. “And we wanted to recognize the dedication and hard work of all of our employees and say thank you in a tangible and meaningful way.”

Laurel Gifford, a spokeswoman for Saint Luke's, said roughly 2,000 of the hospital system's 12,000 employees would be affected by the minimum wage hike.

Saint Luke’s was the first area health care provider to raise its hourly minimum wage to $15. Other hospital networks quickly followed suit. Among them were The University of Kansas Health System, University Health (formerly known as Truman Medical Centers/University Health), HCA Midwest Health, North Kansas City Hospital and Stormont Vail Health in Topeka.

More recently, CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, raised its hourly minimum wage to $15.25; Saint Francis Healthcare System in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, raised its minimum wage to $15; and Mercy, based in Chesterfield, Missouri, boosted its starting wage to $15.

The hikes are part of a trend that has seen hospitals across the country raise minimum wages for frontline workers, the majority of whom are women. Median pay for workers in hospitals, nursing homes and home health care settings was just $13.48 an hour in 2019, according to a Brookings Institution report.

CoxHealth’s wage hike will cost it $25 million, representing about half its revenue. CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards said the investment was needed to keep up with a competitive labor market and to cushion the possible loss of staffers owing to the hospital’s vaccine mandate.

“Hospitals are struggling with the workforce overall, with COVID-19 exacerbating existing challenges,” Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon said in an email.

Mandating COVID-19 vaccinations

Like CoxHealth, Saint Luke’s is one of several area hospital networks mandating COVID-19 vaccinations, giving employees until Oct. 30 to comply. Others include KU Health System, University Health, North Kansas City Hospital and Children’s Mercy.

Initial reports suggest that the vast majority of hospital employees in Missouri have received COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of hospital-imposed deadlines and there has not been a mass exodus of workers.

At University Health, for example, only 39 employees opted to resign rather than comply with its vaccine mandate. University Health has about 5,000 employees.

Estes did not have precise figures on how many Saint Luke's employees have gotten vaccinated. But she said the hospital network had not seen an exodus because of the mandate.

“We see those numbers (of vaccinated employees) increase every day,” she said. “And remember that we did this because we thought it was a patient safety issue and the ability to keep our patients safe, our workforce safe and our community safe and to try to end this pandemic. So we’re very encouraged by the number of folks being vaccinated.”

Estes said Saint Luke’s opted to raise its minimum wage a second time in a year because it wants to be seen as a highly desired employer.

“We believe setting the bar within the health care community with $17.50 and an excellent benefits package really helps us achieve that,” she said. “There is no question this is a highly competitive market for health care workers, particularly those workers at an entry-level position.”

Besides the minimum wage hike and bonus, Saint Luke’s is offering all 12,000 of its employees a paid, floating “Social Impact Day” to perform community service as well as enhanced leave benefits so employees can care for sick family members.

Estes said she’d received positive feedback on the entire wage and benefits package, “but a number of people have called out that (Social Impact) Day and have big plans already.”

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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