TOLEDO, Ohio — We've learned during the pandemic how important our health care workers are.
Now, a local health care system is working to recruit more of them and it's trying something new.
Laura Mason is working towards her accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Mercy College.
Right now, she works as a lactation consultant for Mercy Health.
"I would love to go into Labor and Delivery and be able to keep my lactation consultant position, as well as being able to deliver babies," Mason said.
Mason says her pay was pretty much maxed out without getting her nursing degree. So it was a perfect opportunity when she learned Mercy Health employees can further their education for free.
"My whole tuition is paid for. I just have to maintain my grades of course and they've also paid for my books," Mason said.
Mercy Health says more than 100 programs offer some kind of tuition assistance with 28 being fully funded. You just have to be an employee of Mercy Health. The opportunity is not limited to health care workers.
Emily Low works in housekeeping right now at Perrysburg Hospital but will soon become a nurse on the company's dime.
"I'm hoping to become an operating room nurse or work somewhere in oncology," Low said.
Mercy Health says it had to do something to attract the next generation of health care workers.
"There's about 8,000 employees, give or take, and with a 7.5% vacancy rate, I mean that's over 600 jobs," said Angela Nowak, the H.R. Director and Strategic Partner for Mercy Health's Toledo market. "So we really need to get innovative so that we can make sure that we can have health care workers to take care of our patients."
It seems to be working. Mercy College has 172 Mercy Health employees enrolled this summer compared to 94 at the same time last year. The college points to these expanded education benefits as the cause.
"In the classroom, you can see all of these people who are willing to change their job positions just to get this benefit," Mason said.
Low added: "It'll help me to get my education and I won't have to worry about getting these thousands of dollars of expenses after I graduate."
ProMedica, a Mercy competitor, offers a tuition assistance program as part of its benefits package.