Photo of Herb Vallier and Karen Springer

By Herb Vallier, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, and Karen Springer, Executive Vice President, Performance Optimization and Nursing Operations, Ascension

Ascension’s Mission calls us to go where the need is greatest and care for those most vulnerable. During this unprecedented time of uncertainty, vulnerability and stress, it is important to recall why we, as a Catholic healthcare ministry, exist. As our Mission calls us to do all we can to help those in greatest need, it is equally important that we care for ourselves and our colleagues, so our healthcare heroes can remain on the front lines in service to our communities.

Ascension is blessed to have a Mission-minded community of 160,000+ associates who are tirelessly working together to care for those who need it most. And our caregivers and supporting associates are doing all of this despite the long hours and challenges they may be facing. During times like this, we draw strength and guidance from our faith as we help care for them holistically in body, mind and spirit.

In addition to implementing new practices that support the financial security of our associates, we have made resources available to help associates address personal challenges. We are rapidly evolving our employee policies and benefits to meet the current needs of our associates, and placing them in a centralized intranet site for easy access. In addition, we are identifying and creating resources for mental, emotional and spiritual well-being and seeking new ways to show appreciation and recognize our Ascension healthcare heroes.

Support During COVID-19

With input and guidance from cross-functional teams, Ascension has rolled out several programs specifically designed to ease the burden on associates in the midst of COVID-19.

  • Addressing Financial Hardships – With incredible support from our in-market Foundations, and with additional support from the Ascension Ministry and Mission Fund on the national level, we recently announced the COVID-19 Hardship Financial Assistance Program to help our associates who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. From helping cover the cost of rent or medications to auto repairs, we want to ensure the needs of our doctors, nurses, caregivers and support teams are met as they meet the needs of our communities. Many of our executives have donated to the fund.
  • Pay Protection – Ascension is committed to protect the pay of associates during this time of disruption through a variety of programs, including support for those who are temporarily assigned to a different job within our ministry or unable to work because they have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having COVID-19.
  • Dependent Care Support – We also collaborated on a program to help ease the financial hardship of unexpected dependent care expenses for elderly and special needs family members and children under age 13.
  • Cost of Care – To help associates get the care they need, even in the midst of COVID-19, we made the cost of Ascension Online Care visits $0 for members of SmartHealth, Ascension’s medical plan for Ascension associates and eligible dependents. We also discounted the cost of Ascension Online Care to $20 for everyone else.
  • Specialized Support for Our Frontline – We recognized our frontline healthcare heroes may need to have specialized or targeted benefits available to them as they serve in our care sites. As a result, we are covering 100% of the hotel stay cost for clinical associates who choose to stay in a hotel to eliminate any concern regarding unintentional cross contamination to their family members. Discount rates offered by various hotel chains are available to all associates as well.

We are also redeploying clinical associates within markets and across state lines to assist in our most impacted surge markets. And as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ascension Critical Staffing Pay has been enhanced and expanded to include all frontline clinical associates who are working in markets with patient surges.

Self-Care & Support

We know self-care and support are important, but now more than ever it is essential. From prayer and reflection resources to leader rounding and well-being tools to associate recognition, we have made numerous existing resources available to our leaders and associates, all in one place:

  • Reflections, Prayers And Mindfulness – Ascension’s Mission Integration community collected numerous prayer, reflection and mindfulness resources for associates to use individually or communally. They also developed an associate prayer request page. All requests are reverently lifted up during prayer/reflection gatherings taking place across Ascension. In addition to associate prayer gatherings, religious communities of women and men are offering prayer for these intentions as a way of uniting with us. We also developed a calendar that allows associates to both invite and attend prayers, group meditations, reflection events and more with fellow associates from across Ascension.
  • On Demand Spiritual Care – Drawing upon an existing program and application, Ascension made online one-on-one conversations with our experienced chaplains available anytime, anywhere. This complements the spiritual care our chaplains continue to provide on site.
  • Virtual Peer Support Sessions – In addition to prayer and mindfulness meetings available to associates, colleagues can join virtual peer support sessions as a way to connect with peers. Sessions take place at least once a day and often more frequently.
  • Appreciation and Connectedness – One of Ascension’s greatest strengths is how associates come together in times of need. We’ve provided associates with an online tool to send an eCard to fellow associates.
  • Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Well-being – To complement the prayer and reflection resources, we made several tools and resources available to help associates remain mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong. Tools tackle topics such as energy management, resilience and working remotely as well as leadership techniques to identify signs of distress and grief resources.
  • Employee Assistance – Employee Assistance Program resources, including virtual counseling, are available to help our associates handle stress, manage relationships, or find a new normal.
  • Discounts and Programs – We've partnered with organizations to provide stress-relieving podcasts, e-learning courses, internet services, meal deliveries and more to Ascension associates and their family members.

We know that we can never thank our associates enough for the compassionate, courageous sacrifices they have made – and continue to make – during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we are hopeful that these programs reflect our gratitude for their unrelenting passion for our Mission and a job well done. We want them to know we are trying to care for them in body, mind and spirit, just as they care for others.

As we combat COVID-19 together as one integrated ministry, we are humbled by the dedication and innovation we have witnessed from Ascension associates. Our shared faith in this calling will give us the strength to weather this storm. And when it passes — which it will — we will look back and know we did all we could for one another and for those we are privileged to serve.