Caring for Caregivers: How Wellstar Attracts and Retains Employees

A Wellstar Hospital

Top-notch employees are vital to healthcare. But in an age of extreme talent shortages, how do you attract and keep the best people?


At Georgia healthcare provider Wellstar, retention, engagement, and recruitment start with innovative and cost-effective programs aimed at supporting employees. “Our steadfast commitment to work-life balance,” says Danny Abad, Wellstar’s Vice President, Total Rewards, and Chief Team Member Engagement Officer, “is a huge part of our ability to recruit and retain talent.”


What does that look like in practice? We talked to Danny about all of it – Wellstar’s award-winning approach to benefits, their renowned inclusive culture, and how both have been purposefully created to fuel both the employer’s continuing success, and their reputation as a nationally ranked provider known for quality care. Here’s what Danny had to say.


Bright Horizons: You’re one of Georgia’s largest healthcare providers, with more than 20-thousand employees. What’s your secret to maintaining that in an era of extreme employee shortages that has everyone competing for the same talent?

DannyWe realize our team members have multidimensional lives that impact many other lives, both personally and professionally. We offer a wide array of benefits that support all of life’s moments – on and off the job.


We’re committed to addressing the modern challenges of our entire workforce, but we have pivoted to enhance our benefit offerings around childcare and economic pressures. Women comprise 80 percent of our workforce and we’re mindful of that, though we seek to honor all working caregivers. Annually, we invest more than $3 million in child care benefits. Our onsite child care centers, managed by Bright Horizons, serve children six weeks to five years old and provide school closing and summer camp programs. We were the first in Georgia to establish a center for mildly-ill children to help relieve stress on parents. We offer extended hours for workers on 12-hour shifts and annual free care days to each child enrolled full-time at the center.


All the ways we support our team - from onsite child care facilities to providing back-up care hours to all benefits-eligible team members (for all dependents, from infants to elders), virtual tutoring, and even pet care options – this is one of the reasons why people choose to work at Wellstar. And it’s why they stay at Wellstar.



Bright HorizonsThat’s pretty comprehensive. But how do you know exactly what your employees need?


DannyWe honor their voices and listen to their feedback. Our annual Trust survey provides valuable insights from our team members and helps us understand what they need from us as their employer. We also strive to understand the external market so we can compete effectively. On the compensation front, we subscribe to 34 annual surveys that give us job-specific data and match each of our 2,400 job titles to comparable ones in multiple surveys. This benchmarking enables us to make very informed decisions that help us support our team members – and at the same time attract and retain top talent. We work to ease the economic pressures team members face. We increased our minimum wage three times in the last three years, well beyond the federal minimum. Additionally, Wellstar pays ~85% of total medical plan premiums, while our tuition reimbursement program eases the burden of student loan debt. We project we will save team members nearly $60 million in forgiven loan debt and lower their monthly student loan payments. We’ve also partnered with Bank of America to help boost our team members’ financial well-being. They’ve created special programs for our team aimed at making them more financially savvy. All these resources make a real difference for team members.

Bright Horizons: You seem very in tune with the challenges your employees face. How has Wellstar dealt with healthcare’s other big challenges – the focus on frontlines and the alarming rate of burnout?


DannyIn 2021, to demonstrate our value and compassion for team members who gave selflessly during the pandemic, our HR and wellness teams created the MyCare Rewards program. Given its success, we are continuing with the offering and adding to it, including:

  • Two days off or a MyCare grant of $500 to spend as they want. This offers team members the flexibility and the ability to select the reward that is most meaningful to them. About 43% opted for the gift of additional time off and well-deserved rest.
  • Free access to a mindfulness and meditation app and fitness center to help reduce stress and promote restful sleep.
  • On-site Employee Assistant Program (EAP) counselors to coordinate resources.
  • Dedicated “wellness” spaces at each facility to enable team members to recharge and refresh. These specially designed rooms have massage/zero gravity chairs, virtual reality headsets, aromatherapy, spaces for meditation and wellness education sessions, and a wellness library. On average, the wellness rooms are being utilized 10,000 times per month in 13 rooms across the system, with 97% of surveyed visitors saying the room had a positive impact on their mental state.
  • A state park pass so our team could enjoy the great outdoors with their families.

I’m so proud that even in the midst of the pandemic, our Great Place to Work Survey results revealed 91% of our team members find joy in their work – just one point off our pre-pandemic score.


Bright HorizonsYou mentioned earlier that you recognize your employees’ multi-dimensional lives. How does that play out in your overall HR philosophy?


DannyEmployers must understand that team members can only perform their best when they have the peace-of-mind that comes from comprehensive total rewards offerings that support them at work and at home. Bright Horizons flexible and creative solutions such as back-up care and elder care support allow us to support team members throughout their life changes and challenges. Interestingly, our team members usage of back-up care reinforces that caregiving goes beyond young children needing fulltime care with virtual tutoring accounting for 19% of total use and caring for a elder parent or spouse accounting for 7.5%.


We hear a lot of great feedback from team members; back-up care gives them peace of mind while working.


Bright Horizons: How do you know your efforts are successful? How do they translate to ROI?


DannySome returns are measurable. When parents have access to dependable child care, or an EAP counselor can intervene early to help mitigate a clinician’s mounting stress that results in improved quality, an enhanced patient experience, and better productivity by our team members. We also know that offering back-up care saved 1,728 workdays.


That said, some things you can’t measure financially, but still have significant impact: When a team member tells you our Freedom from Smoking program helped her break a 40-year habit. Or when a working parent says the loving care her son received at our child care center helped her family cope when her child was diagnosed with a rare cancer. These sentiments are just as important.


Bright HorizonsWellstar has been at the forefront of innovation in healthcare HR. What would you say to other healthcare HR leaders as we continue to move into the next year and beyond?


DannyHR teams must stay attuned to rapidly changing economic and cultural landscapes and offer benefits that speak to those pressures. We’ve shifted from providing traditional benefits - medical, dental, life — to taking a more holistic approach. Our work-life team communicates with team members on world issues offering support and resources to defuse the impact. Benefits must meet people where they are — without regard to age, gender or life cycle.


What’s next? In 2023, Danny says the goal is to continue fostering a better understanding of Wellstar’s people, and to continue encouraging employees to use their incredible array of benefits.


“We’ll continue to look for ways to improve psychological and emotional wellness in the workplace,” he says, “and intensify our efforts to stabilize staffing. And listen carefully to bolster a high culture of trust and engagement.”


Bright Horizons: Thanks, Danny. We look forward to checking in again in the new year to come.

A Wellstar Hospital

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