MetroHealth made ambitious strides to identify and improve social determinants of health in patients in recent years, but a study found that some of its employees face the same challenges – including food insecurity and financial strain
— as the poorest Northeast Ohioans that it serves.
The study, published in the Journal of Primary Care and Community Health, surveyed more than 1,900 full-time employees from June to October 2021 using the same intake screening given to patients.
Employees were asked about food insecurity, financial strain, transportation difficulty, inability to pay for housing or utilities, intimate partner violence, social isolation, infrequent physical activity, daily stress, and lack of internet access.
Among respondents, 10% reported an inability to pay for housing or utilities, 11% reported food insecurity and 12% reported financial strain. These numbers increased in certain departments, with 20% of those in administrative support and 32% of those in clinical support reporting financial strain.
In 2021, the same year employees were surveyed, ousted CEO Dr. Akram Boutros was paid $2.1 million in total, including $416,000 in supplemental bonuses the board contends were unauthorized and in violation of his contract.
As a report from the law firm of Tucker Ellis commissioned by the board notes, Boutros used benchmarks in social justice, including improving outcomes in underserved communities, in the self-evaluations that determined those supplemental bonuses.
For his former employees, in addition to financial challenges, 48% of respondents reported social isolation and 58% reported daily stress.
The study concluded that, “Health systems should routinely screen employees for social determinants and adjust salaries, benefits, and assistance programs to address their social needs.”
For its part, MetroHealth said in a statement that it “hired a social worker to help employees connect with community resources related to food assistance, financial literacy, transportation, and childcare” and that two of MetroHealth’s locations “share space with community-based organizations to facilitate social assistance.”
For the employees facing food insecurity, housing insecurity or financial hardship, MetroHealth says they “are referred to the MetroHealth Opportunity Center to enroll in financial coaching services.”
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