May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Holiday Shifts: Do They Have It Covered?

Bergen County–Few days on the secular calendar rival the importance and the sheer expansive reach of Christmas Day. To keep health care institutions operational, Jews bear a good portion of the load by covering multiple shifts back to back. A 24/7-community business such as a hospital, rehab and elder care home facility needs holiday coverage to care for acute, chronic and critically ill patients. “For 25 years straight I worked Christmas Day, it was an honor because I could have my holidays,” said Teaneck resident and R.N. Helen Deutsch.

Ethically-bound and committed to delivering seamless patient care, most Jewish doctors, nurses and medical support team members in radiology, anesthesiology, physical or another type of therapy, raise their hands and take these shifts, but is it enough? “I’ve mostly worked in smaller facilities, like I do now–so with only a 120 beds we’re like family. I find that people are always grateful for the coverage,” said Shannon Gonosky a dietician with CareOne. “I have always worked on Christmas, and I am covered on the Jewish holidays.”

Gale Bindleglass the Jewish Community Relations Council Chair with Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey shared a broader structured strategy; “Temple Beth Rishon (Wyckoff) has a committee of dedicated volunteers who fill in at hospitals on non-Jewish holidays.” But does this proactive brotherhood approach, extend far enough to affect and secure total care in today’s shifting community business model or is there a brewing crisis on the horizon?

While human resources department heads and nurse managers routinely fulfill staff scheduling requirements on behalf of hospitals and healthcare facilities, the process has certainly changed over time. “Years ago when I worked on US holidays like Christmas or Easter we were paid time and half, plus you had your employee benefits but no more. Today it’s a straight pay rate and there are no benefits because most facilities have cut back on staff and everyone is per diem,” admitted Deutsch.

Some managers and administrators used to illustrate consideration for the life events and cycles of its staffers by infusing more of a partnership attitude into the scheduling process. Previously, management would routinely ask staff members to prioritize their holiday preferences, even going so far as posting and implementing a schedule ‘rating system’ for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, etc. Yet other normative systemic conduct involved the unilateral making of a schedule with independent managerial consideration or input based on seniority.

“Today it’s altogether different. There is no real investment in workers and everyone is dispensable. To avoid paying healthcare and overtime rates, a pool of full time transient workers has emerged. It’s universal and it’s all driven by the bottom line,” revealed Deutsch.

This dramatic shift to the face of American healthcare is being led by hiring agencies that have taken over the role of hospital and facility management. Further swings put this newly acquired control into the hands of the per diems. “If you want Christmas off, you simple say ‘I’m not available’ and the agencies have to just keep calling on others until they find the coverage. Lacking incentives, talent is also moving around quite a bit too. They move with the money.

“Because we are not making holiday or overtime pay on national holidays anymore, neither side is really invested in the other, not the employer, or the employee. If offered a few extra pennies elsewhere, they (full-time per diems) simple change agencies. There is no loyalty, no gold watch. Those days are long gone, for everyone,” said Deutsch.

Quick to defend her co-workers, Deutsch, an RN for decades who spent many of her earlier years at Columbia Presbyterian says, “Patient need is very real, that doesn’t change. And in spite of it all people are still very committed to delivering exceptional patient care.”

Considering all seismic changes, Deutsch says she has one real stand out concern, “Are we as Orthodox Jews really always showing the appropriate respect to our Christian employees? Recently, I was in a place in which I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a Hispanic and black worker in which they remarked, ‘Orthodox Jews have their holidays and they flat out refuse to work, so why do they demand we work on our holiday?” With low worker morale pervasive in America are we sure ‘we’ have it all covered?”

Elyse Hansford a freelance writer, mother and marketing consultant @elysehansford.

By Elyse Hansford

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