HR Exclusive: Holistic Wellbeing Supports Cone Health’s Deskless Team

Ellen Pancoast, Cone Health
Operating more than 150 locations, including six hospitals, Cone Health is a vital provider of healthcare for thousands of North Carolinians. The non-profit network relies on more than 13,000 talented team members to embody its brand promise: “We are right here with you.” To deliver on this promise, the healthcare company knows it must care for its team members, so they can care for their patients and communities. Ellen Pancoast, Cone Health’s vice president of people operations, recently joined us to explain Cone Health's holistic approach to team member wellness. 

Tell us about your culture and how that influences Cone Health’s benefits strategy.  

For us, our culture is our competitive advantage. Our brand promise is that we are right here with you. Our approach to benefits is one important way we demonstrate that promise to our team members. With five generations represented in the workforce, and now the introduction of virtual team members across more than a dozen states, our workplace is quite complex. We believe it is important for our team members to know that we’re right here with them at every stage of life.  

Having a large and dispersed workforce means that we need scalable benefits and programs to support a diverse group of team members, with the vast majority being deskless. Our philosophy is to offer a total rewards program that supports the holistic well-being – physical, mental, financial, social and spiritual – of our team members and their families. How we support the total well-being of our team members can have a positive or negative impact on everything from patient care and satisfaction, to the cost of recruiting and retaining team members, the cost of their healthcare, our use of contractors, and more. 

What are some ways Cone Health cares for its caregivers? 

The majority (more than 80%) of our team members are female and are likely caregivers of some sort outside of our healthcare facilities. As a result, we focus on offering benefits and programs that will help them be their best at work and at home. We have three on-site child care centers to support our working parents. And while we transitioned management of our centers to Bright Horizons about a decade ago, we’ve worked for many more years to support working families. In fact, we have one teacher who has been with us for roughly 30 years.  

Our centers are flexible and operate during hours that work for healthcare workers. Two of the centers have extended hours from six to six, but one, where the need is different, runs from six in the morning to eight in the evening. We also offer a back-up care program that supports families with 10 days of coverage. This allows our team members to fill care gaps for children, and extends care to aging parents and spouses, and now even pets because we know all families are different.  

While the value of these programs is often intangible, we know from feedback and team member engagement scores that they help us recruit and retain talent. 

The healthcare industry has been under tremendous pressure over the past several years. What are some initiatives Cone Health has aimed specifically at supporting the mental wellbeing of your team members? 

Team member well-being is a top priority for every healthcare organization, especially in light of the toll that the pandemic took on our teams. We, like many organizations, have an employee assistance program. Recently, we introduced tools for team members to access mental well-being support in new ways. We need the majority of our team members on the floor to care for patients, directly or indirectly. That means they can’t always do face-to-face mental health counseling. As a result, our new tools are asynchronous, so our people can access them virtually, whenever it is convenient for them. 

Similarly, we have a care concierge partner to help take tedious tasks off team members’ plates. Again, since our team members need to be on the floor and we are a 24/7 operation, they don’t always have time to do things like make calls to find a skilled care facility for an aging parent. The care concierge benefit provides a support team who will do the legwork for our team members and really take that burden away from them. 

In an uncertain economic climate, what are some of the supports you have in place to promote financial wellbeing? 

Inflation has impacted everyone, and our team members are no different. To help offset rising costs, we offer access to a platform that offers meaningful discounts on just about anything you could think of – from big purchases like mortgages, cars, and travel, to everyday offerings like home meal services, glasses and so much more. The platform includes local retailers and vendors. 

We also have on-site financial advisors who support team members with retirement planning, budgeting and beyond. You will often see them on the floor connecting with team members and encouraging them to set up a one-on-one meeting. It is a very personal program, which was, again, designed in recognition of how and when our team members work.  

Educational growth is so important in the healthcare field. Does Cone Health offer any academic support to its team members? How has that impacted retention? 

Tuition reimbursement is available to assist financially with education professional certifications through doctorate degrees. We offer aid to full- and part-time team members at varying levels. For nursing programs, team members are eligible for up to $5,250 in tuition assistance. Nursing is a critical need for us, and 2/3 of our overall participants in the program are pursuing nursing degrees. We also offer student loan support through a program that helps them navigate the repayment process. Because Cone Health is a qualifying institution, this program assists team members in applying and qualifying for public service loan forgiveness, which can be a complicated process. 

In 2022, we retained approximately 88% of participating learners. More than half of our participants (66%) are attending North Carolina schools and universities, which again demonstrates our commitment to our local community. Ultimately, our goal is for people to join Cone Health and grow their careers with us for a long time. Offering educational support is one way of achieving that goal. 

Thank you so much to Ellen for taking the time to talk with us! 
Ellen Pancoast, Cone Health

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