HR Exclusive: Why a Top Medical System Prioritizes Family Care Solutions

Eric Saidel, Sr. Director of Human Resources at Weill Cornell

As one of the top medical schools in the country, Weill Cornell Medicine prides itself on compassionate, superior care for patients, faculty, and students alike. The graduate medical school for Cornell University, Weill Cornell serves over three million patients each year at more than 150 locations across the New York metro area. Its mission is threefold: exceptional patient care, cutting-edge research, and education of the physicians and scientists of the future.

To achieve these goals, the healthcare organization knows it needs to offer its nearly 10,000 students, faculty, and staff the support they need to care for themselves, their families, and, in turn, their patients. Eric M. Saidel, Weill Cornell’s Interim Senior Director of Human Resources, joined us to discuss the school’s approach to supporting and enabling its working caregivers.

What are some of the unique child care challenges that healthcare workers face?

The first thing I think about is my own situation with my children over the years. Healthcare is obviously a frontline business and there were days over the years when my kids were sick and I really couldn’t miss work. So that’s probably the biggest challenge – how do you navigate those situations? We have a labor shortage in healthcare and many people have left the industry over the last several years because of issues like child care, burnout, and the stress of the pandemic. Healthcare employees regularly must make the choice between having and growing a career or starting a family. That’s not good enough. It shouldn’t be an either/or. We hate seeing anyone leave our industry because they have caregiving responsibilities that can’t be ignored. At the same time, solving the child care challenge in healthcare is a really complex task. Everybody has varying needs in that area, and we need to be prepared, as an organization, to meet those needs.

Weill Cornell has been supporting working parents for a long time now. Why is that such a major point of emphasis for you?

We have an incredibly diverse workforce, and the differences show up clearly in their family makeups and caregiving responsibilities. If we want them to have the peace of mind they need to be at their best and provide the best care, we need to support them. Also, we’re located in New York City where child care is both hard to access and extremely expensive. There was a recent New York Times article that said parents are leaving New York, cutting their work hours, or changing jobs because of the cost and lack of access to child care. That same article shared that more than half of New York City families are spending more than they can afford on child care.

On top of that we're competing with so many other healthcare organizations in the New York metro area. Family care is one way we’re able to differentiate ourselves and make a difference in people's lives beyond just dollars in a paycheck. Ultimately, we want to remove the stress of finding child care so that our employees can bring their best selves to work every day and continue to have the impact that we strive for. As an organization, we've been working with Bright Horizons for more than a decade to support these needs and continue to evolve that relationship as employee needs change.

How do you approach the challenge of the Sandwich Generation, who provide care for children and elderly relative(s) simultaneously?

This issue is near and dear to me as I'm a member of the sandwich generation, along with several members of my team. We've seen an increase in questions from employees about the benefits and resources we offer to support aging or ill relatives. And as Baby Boomers continue to age, this need is only going to increase. We have five generations represented in our workforce, and their care needs vary widely as you’d expect. But with child care, you can, to an extent, plan out when and how long you’re going to need it. When you're talking about your parents, there’s much less certainty. You don’t know what they’re going to need and when in terms of care. Sometimes this need can come on extremely fast. A parent who seems fine and healthy can experience a medical situation that suddenly requires you to provide care. So that's an additional level of stress that makes elder care a really pressing need.

What are some of the solutions Weill Cornell has put in place to support working caregivers?

The cornerstones of our program are our two on-site child care centers, which are available to employees in and around New York City. Our centers are open from 7:30 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening every day of the week to support the extended hours and varied shifts healthcare professionals work. We also offer a summer camp program to help fill in the care gaps that school usually provides, while also offering children a high-quality education in the summer months. The children in our centers today may be our students, faculty and staff one day, and we need to keep that perspective in mind. Investing in child care at the employer level is our way of contributing to a better future for the next generation.

Our ultimate goal is to provide child care to as much of our population as possible, and to do so in an affordable way for those families. I'm proud to share that tuition at our child care centers is about one-third of typical New York City child care market rates. We work very hard and in strong partnership with our partners at Bright Horizons to be able to keep those costs as low as possible. We also calculate the rate that families pay based on their household income to ensure the care is affordable for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for child care and we want that to be reflected in every aspect of our offerings, right down to the pricing of our centers.

How do you also support dispersed employees who may not be able to benefit from the centers directly?

Some of our employees are either fully remote or live too far from our child care centers to make them a feasible care option. Considering this, we changed our relationship with Bright Horizons to include a 20% tuition subsidy at any Bright Horizon Center across the country for any of our employees. So, if they can't make it to one of our onsite centers or prefer something closer to home, they can get discounted rates on the Bright Horizon Center closest to where they live. This is something that our employees really pushed for and it’s nice to be able to offer them access to child care centers beyond the two that we operate.

Another important piece of our care puzzle is back-up care. We offer our employees 25 days of back-up care a year to use on days when their usual care provider is unavailable. While roughly two-thirds of our back-up care usage is for school-aged children, the program also includes tutoring for older children and elder care for aging relatives. We try to make it as comprehensive as possible so that we can meet every employee where they are in life. We've had more than 4,000 uses of our back-up care benefit to date. That equates to shifts saved for people who were able to do their job because their care needs were met. Nine out of ten employees who have taken advantage of back-up care say they would have missed work without it. One employee referred to the program as a “godsend” for their family, so that tells you how impactful it is.

What are some of the positive results you see as an organization from your commitment to support working caregivers?

As I said earlier, New York is a competitive market for healthcare workers. We advertise these programs and benefits to attract candidates and retain our existing employees. But deeper than that, these benefits show our employees that we’re there for them when they need us. They impact people when they are at their most vulnerable in ways that really resonate. And that affects the care that we provide as an organization. By helping our people feel more centered, stable, and less stressed about their situations, we reduce burnout and allow them to maintain the highest standard of care.

Thank you so much to Eric for taking the time to speak with us! 

Eric Saidel, Sr. Director of Human Resources at Weill Cornell

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