Boosting benefits to help families during uncertain times

Five years ago, executives at Memorial Healthcare System recognized that the company’s benefits package needed to be updated and upgraded. Through a series of focus groups and surveys, Margie Vargas, chief human resources officer at the six-hospital system based in Hollywood, Fla., and her team asked Memorial’s 14,000 employees for their ideas.

“We found that employees wanted benefits that would support their family life,” she said. “Since then, we have introduced several new benefits that extend past the employees to their families and whatever they define their family to be.”

That is why Memorial now offers pet insurance, as well as legal-services insurance, identity-theft insurance and financial assistance to help with adoption. Starting next year, the health system will offer reproductive-medicine services such as fertility assistance and an annual week of paid parental leave outside employees’ normal paid time off.

During its journey to become more family-friendly, Memorial has decreased employee cost-sharing. Today, the system covers about 75% of the cost for employee benefits, up from 65% five years ago, Vargas said.

“We’ve assumed more of that financial responsibility because we want to ensure that our employees have the coverages that they need and that they’re able to afford them,” she said.

Health Catalyst, a data and analytics technology company based near Salt Lake City, also uses benefits to bolster its family-friendly bona fides. The company employs just over 1,200 team members; many are remote-only, while others work in one of several offices around the country.

“Each year our goal is make the benefits even better for our team members,” said CEO Dan Burton.

In addition to adoption assistance and fertility-assistance insurance, his staff members have expressed appreciation for benefits such as three months of paid maternity/paternity leave for new parents, company-paid life insurance that pays out three times the amount of a staff member’s salary, and a $10,000-per-year education benefit for family members to obtain an undergraduate degree if a staff member dies.

“On five different occasions, we’ve lost a team member and the impact to the family to not have to worry about their financial future for a number of years has been incredibly helpful,” Burton said.

Supporting mental health

Family-friendly employers work to support mental health for their employees and their families. HopeWest, a not-for-profit that provides hospice, palliative care, and grief and loss counseling programs for residents of Western Colorado, offers Doctor on Demand video-enabled care to employees and their dependents.

“If an employee or family member has anxiety and needs to get some counseling in the middle of the night, they can use that service to speak with a counselor or psychiatrist 24/7 with no copay,” said Mary Wigington, vice president of human resources.

Health Catalyst employees have access to Tava Health, which matches an individual to a therapist for ongoing mental health services via video or text messaging with no out-of-pocket expense. 

“This has been amazing for our team members and their family members, and we have received tremendous feedback from them,” said Linda Llewelyn, Health Catalyst’s chief people officer.

As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020, Memorial Healthcare worked to increase employees’ awareness of and access to its Community Services program, which provides no-cost online counseling, support groups, case management and other services to at-risk individuals and families. 

“We have seen an uptick in the utilization because the services are so effective and they are confidential so our employees feel safe going and seeking out support,” Vargas said. “COVID really sent us in a whirlwind, similar to every other employer out there, but we have leveraged internal resources to support our employees, and that has been well received.”

Easing financial woes

HopeWest showed its commitment to employees’ families by keeping them employed even though the pandemic closed down the agency’s restaurant and some other operations. The organization relies of hundreds of volunteers, many of whom paused their in-person involvement during the COVID-19 shutdown, said CEO Christy Whitney Borchard.

“We lost a lot of free labor, but we had staff who couldn’t do their regular job so we redeployed them so they could continue to have a job,” she said. “We had restaurant staff who were raking leaves and cleaning up stuff and answering the phone.”

Likewise, Health Catalyst did not want to add to the financial stress its employees experienced when their spouses or partners were laid off during the pandemic. So it chose not to cut staff positions or work hours.

“I hear about other companies that say it is not advisable to cross that line between family and work,”
Llewelyn said. “But we have found that it’s not only helpful to our team members, but it’s just imperative during incredibly isolating times when they could all use a little bit of support.”

Lola Butcher is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Mo.


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