Vail Health spending $194M in 2023, taking ‘big steps’ to attract and retain its workforce

There's a $20 per hour minimum wage and an ambitious housing project

A conceptual rendering of the Fox Hollow development in Edwards. The project is a partnership between BGV Edwards Ventures LLC and Vail Health to bring 87 units of workforce housing to the organization.
Vail Health/Courtesy Photo

Vail Health’s mission for years has been to remain independent. But independence can be expensive.

The Vail Health organization in fiscal 2023 will spend about $194 million on employee compensation and benefits. That starts with a $20 per hour minimum wage — although most employees earn more. It also includes creating 87 new housing units for employees, and funding benefits ranging from child care assistance to a recreation benefit and student loan assistance of up to $30,000.

Some of the steps
  • Vail Health’s minimum wage is now $20 per hour. Most employees make more than that.
  • For the fourth consecutive year, there are no increases in the premiums for medical, dental and vision insurance.
  • The Patient Care Technician program at Colorado Mountain Medical gives employees on-the-job training to become certified medical assistance.
  • Vail Health, in partnership with BGV Edwards Property LLC, will build 87 new workforce housing units in Edwards. The units will have 218 total bedrooms.

“We’re not just playing catch-up, we’re making forward progress,” Vail Health chief real estate development officer Craig Cohn said.

Expanding services, adding more people, an exceptional local housing crunch and high inflation created the need for what Cohn called an “aggressive response” from the health care organization.

Vail Health vice president of human resources Jennifer Law said the benefits package is part of a “holistic” approach to employee recruitment and retention. That approach intends to differentiate Vail Health from other valley employers, and other health care organizations.

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Creating friendly co-workers

Law noted that she recently interviewed a candidate for a leadership position. That person told Law “everybody is so friendly.”

Law added that if people love coming to work and feel cared for by the organization, those people are in a good position to care for others.

Caring goes beyond the employee handbook.

Cohn noted that his team this year suffered the loss of a colleague. There was a behavioral health specialist in the office the next morning, and consistently for some time after that.

That’s something the organization couldn’t have done five, or even two, years ago, Cohn noted.

“We can address a critical need at a critical time,” Cohn said.

Those needs also can include flexible schedules, child care reimbursement and expanded employee housing program.

The heart of that expanded program is the 2023 start on construction of 87 apartments at Fox Hollow in Edwards.

Vail Health has partnered with BGV Edwards Property LLC on the project. Vail Health will use all 87 units for workforce housing. The organization will buy 28 of the units and has a 10-year master lease agreement with BGV for the remainder.

Doubling the housing inventory

Adding Fox Hollow will nearly double Vail Health’s housing inventory.

Cohn noted that five years ago, Vail Health had housing for about 5% of its workforce. Vail Health today has housing for about 10% of its workforce. The Fox Hollow project will boost that number to 22%, based on the current employee numbers. But, Cohn added, Vail Health’s workforce will be larger when Fox Hollow opens.

Fox Hollow will also mark the beginning of a subsidized employee rent model. Employees will be able to pay on a sliding scale based on pay, rather than market rates.

That’s part of a strategy to keep people once they’re on staff.

Cohn noted that for building engineers, hotels can, and do, poach people all the time from other properties.

“But on the trained health care side, we’re the only game in town,” Cohn noted. Losing a person often means Vail Health will have to recruit and import someone to fill that role.

“That’s exceptionally hard today,” he said.

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