Pennsylvania Hospital System Mitigates Worker Shortage With Bonuses, Vaccine Deferrals

October 19, 2021 Updated: October 19, 2021

As a worker shortage plagues most businesses, St. Luke’s University Health Network is using several strategies to mitigate employee loss, including how it administers the federal vaccine mandate, and large sign-on bonuses for new workers.

St. Luke’s operates 12 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The health system recently issued a press release announcing that it has achieved its vaccine mandate goal.

Natural immunity and health impacts have been considered at St. Luke’s University Health Network as it navigates President Joe Biden’s employee vaccine mandate requiring vaccination or termination.

While some companies are only now announcing vaccine policies, St. Luke’s announced a vaccine mandate on Aug. 9, requiring that all employees without exemptions or deferrals be vaccinated by Sept. 25. Ultimately 668 workers skipped the vaccine, receiving exemptions or deferrals from St. Luke’s.

By the Sept. 25 deadline, 68 full-time employees and 87 part-time/per diem employees chose not to become vaccinated and resigned, the press release said.

Of workers who did not get vaccinated, 46 received a medical exemption, 406 were granted a religious exemption, and 216 were granted a temporary deferral for pregnancy or a positive COVID-19 test within the last year.

Those with exemptions or temporary deferrals will undergo weekly COVID-19 tests as a condition of continued employment.

Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, a St. Luke’s infectious disease and internal medicine specialist, stressed during an appearance on FOX News that the deferrals for pregnancy or a positive COVID-19 test within the last year are temporary and that the health system is committed to employees getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The deferral allows more time to make a decision and is not a permanent exemption.

Natural immunity can provide protection that is equal or superior to the vaccine, Jahre said.

To attract and retain new employees, St. Luke’s is offering registered nurse and graduate nurse bonuses of $20,000 for all acute care and $15,000 for all specialty areas, in exchange for a 2-year commitment, according to its website. New time-off benefits are also being offered.

Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje is an investigative journalist covering Pennsylvania politics, courts, and the commonwealth’s most interesting and sometimes hidden news. Send her your story ideas: