Kenneth Douglas works full time in a valet parking job at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Three days a week, he also delivers pizzas for Domino’s.
On those days, the 31-year-old starts work at 6:30 a.m. parking cars for doctors and patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield (Mich.) Hospital and ends the day delivering pizza until 11:30 p.m., with a short break in between.
“It can be a lot,” Douglas said during a late October interview after his valet shift ended. “I work like crazy but … it’ll pay off in the long run.”
He lives with his parents and is saving up to buy a place of his own. He’s scared by the dangers of working at a hospital during the coronavirus pandemic and has seen co-workers leave the job from fear and stress.
“When the pandemic first hit, literally there were people, in not only my department, that were like, ‘I can’t handle this.’ A lot of people left,” Douglas said. “That kind of made it stressful on everybody because everybody had to rally.”
Douglas got some relief last month when Henry Ford raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour for more than 3,000 front-line workers, bumping up his hourly rate from $11.45 an hour. It will cost the health system $6 million annually.
The system is one of the latest to join a growing number of healthcare organizations nationwide, including the Cleveland Clinic, Jefferson Health, Duke University Health System and Advocate Aurora Health, providing a $15 per hour minimum wage.
While the pandemic has created financial challenges, “we really think it’s the right thing to do to support a living wage long term,” said Kevin Brady, chief human resources officer at Advocate Aurora.
During the pandemic, healthcare organizations have been challenged by freezes on elective procedures, patients delaying care and by trying to care for those with a novel virus.
Yet the pandemic also has reinforced to systems like Henry Ford how important their front-line workers are, executives say.
“We have always valued those individuals and understood how important they are to serving our patients and making it possible for us to live into our mission. It was certainly punctuated during the height of the pandemic,” said Nina Ramsey, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Henry Ford. “We saw just how important our essential workers are, especially in times of crisis.”