GVH looks to increase wages, housing stock

Trying to improve employee recruitment, retention and senior center capacity

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

Gunnison Valley Health (GVH) is recalibrating wages for some of its workers as the hospital system continues to recruit for several unfilled positions and negotiate with its current workforce to prevent turnover. GVH’s chief executive officer Jason Amrich, who has been at the helm for just over three months, and other GVH officials met with Gunnison County commissioners on March 22 to review the county’s largest health system and its current strategies. Worker housing is at the top of the list, as is stabilizing staff retention, increasing the number of senior care center residents to meet its potential and taking stock of overall real estate holdings, according to Amrich. 

Staffing considerations are at the core of many of the hospital system’s needs, from increasing capacity at the senior care center to expanding specialty services such as women’s health, dermatology, surgery, pediatrics and preventative health screenings. Yet staffing has been affected by low housing stock and high market prices, said GVH officials. The hospital system hopes to address this by first increasing wages as it is able. 

“There are many positions open that we are actively recruiting for,” said Amrich. “We have been getting requests for more competitive wages, and looking at budgeting for the salary increases.” 

The senior care center in Gunnison is holding steady at 38 residents, said Amrich, “but our hope is to continue to increase that staffing,” and allow more. The center’s capacity is 50 residents, and Amrich shared the good news that the center’s star rating has recently increased from three to four (out of five) as a marker of quality. 

He said it is fairly challenging to get seniors who are released from the hospital into the right level of care, whether in a long-term facility or with home health care. Having more flexibility in the senior care center could alleviate some of that.

Staffing is also affected by housing availability, from front line workers like facilities staff to highly trained specialists and physicians, said Amrich. Another of GVH’s goals is attaining more housing stock via real estate holdings and master leases. 

GVH vice president of administrative services Wade Baker described the housing challenge and GVH’s needs in more detail via email to the Crested Butte News. “It is impacting Gunnison Valley Health from both a recruitment as well as retention standpoint. GVH currently owns 11 units and we have just signed a master lease for eight additional units in the Paintbrush development. We also have a couple of local short-term leases. Between new employees moving into the area as well as current employees struggling with housing, we estimate we could put up to approximately 50 units to use,” said Baker.

Amrich said there have been a lot of applicants for the eight master leases at Paintbrush, and GVH is trying to decide how to be fair in offering them. “We also have to ask ourselves how to be equitable looking at our units at Lazy K [a housing development under construction in Gunnison]; how do we manage our housing assets?”

Baker said that two-bedroom units are the largest demand among GVH employees, with three-bedrooms the next biggest need.

Other goals on the horizon

Amrich said since COVID has receded for now, “We have stepped down the incident command,” and the public health meetings are less frequent although GVH officials still meet with Gunnison County public health director Joni Reynolds periodically. “We have a good open line of communication there,” he said.

The low COVID numbers have allowed GVH to focus on other goals such as streamlining medical records across the hospital system and other provider networks, and engaging in real estate and facility strategic planning that might include a medical arts center at the north end of Gunnison. 

Amrich said he was pleased with the valley-wide input that came from a recent community survey regarding the hospital system’s services. “We had over 800 respondents to the community survey, and we will begin looking more closely at the data there. We identified the top eight items people listed, and then we will narrow that down to the top three or four to focus on. Oncology, behavioral health and substance abuse treatment rank high,” said Amrich. 

A behavioral health needs study that came out recently will also help with specifics. Amrich said he hopes to increase the number of colonoscopies, women’s health services, dermatology appointments and other services that are vital for preventative health screening. He said he also hopes to hire a general surgeon by mid-summer. 

As commissioners listened to Amrich’s reports, the subject of how much more housing to build for local workforces held center stage. 

Amrich said he did not believe more construction would equate to a new line of cars coming over Monarch to move to the valley, but would fill in gaps for those who are already here and help “just getting our heads above water.” 

County commissioners agreed, and commissioner Roland Mason said he would look into finding data from various employers and industries that could aid in identifying how many people are in need of housing within the valley.

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