To avoid losing more talent and money, the health system evaluated and strengthened its benefits and workplace practices. It implemented a series of workplace changes, including offering employees over the age of 40 the option to keep their pension plans or to switch to 401(k) retirement plans, and introducing voluntary life and accidental-death insurance, enabling employees the opportunity to obtain more coverage. Employees could increase their life insurance benefit beyond what was already offered by Ochsner.
Part-time staff received the same benefits. That was especially appealing to Ochsner's older workforce and to retirees who returned to the workplace. Those working just 10 hours a week received the same benefits as those working 40 hours a week, except that part-timers had to pay higher premiums. But the insurance was offered at a discounted, or group, rate, so the premiums were lower than if the employees had purchased the same insurance plans on their own.
When employees were short on cash, the company also allowed them to "sell" back their paid time off, such as vacation time. But what also appealed to older workers was the opportunity to protect their incomes through short- and long-term disability insurance. The short-term policy provided injured employees with 60 percent of their pay for up to six months. For those with the company for three years, Ochsner pays the entire premiums for long term-disability. This ensures that employees receive at least half their salaries. What's more, employees can purchase the same long-term policy for other members of their families, such as their mothers or fathers.
Unlike other organizations, the health system provided its retirees with different medical-plan options. Employees at least 55 years of age with 10 years of service who wanted to retire could remain on the company’s health plan, if they paid the full cost of the premiums. But when they reached age 65, employees had a choice—pay for the same plan, an HMO, or a Medicare-supplemental plan at a greatly reduced cost.
Mollohan says most organizations don't offer these choices to older workers. "They say if you retire before 65, you get nothing," she says, adding that the health plan for employees over 65 years of age is a much better policy than Medicare.
Nurses at Ochsner have the added benefit of expanded career opportunities if they want to leave patient bedsides. Ochsner was able to offer these additional career paths when it acquired six hospitals and 35 health care centers that were put up for sale after Katrina. For example, nurses could transfer to other facilities, such as physician practices or home-health care agencies. Nurses who wanted to retire could also return to work on an as-needed basis.
At the same time, the system began training its managers—via the Ochsner Leadership Institute—on a variety of issues that the company was facing. Retention-strategy courses became part of the curriculum. Mollohan explained that managers now have their own retention plans, which include promoting employee benefits and nurse transfers.