2008 Salary Survey Results

In tough times, EHPs get compensated for value

Most still get raises as hospitals compete for nurses

Despite a crashing economy, employee health professionals reported receiving a salary increase of at least 1% to 3%. In fact, according to the 2008 Hospital Employee Health salary survey, almost one-third of employee health professionals (31%) reported receiving 4% or more.

Hospitals are being affected by hard economic times, particularly as they absorb costs of the uninsured. But as nurses remain in high demand, hospitals must keep their pay competitive. Employee health professionals can strengthen their positions by emphasizing the link between worker safety and patient safety and their role in reducing costs and improving productivity, employee health experts say.

"Stay cognizant of the value of employee health and the services we provide. And market that value [to hospital administration]," advises Sandy Domeracki Prickitt, RN, FNP, COHN-S, employee health coordinator at Marin General and Novato Community hospitals and executive president of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP).

In the HEH salary survey, about one-quarter (23.5%) of the respondents earned $60,000 to $69,999 while 19% earned $50,000 to $59,999 and 24% earned $70,000 to $89,999. There were 220 respondents to the survey. Most (63%) had a bachelor's or master's degree.

Employee health professionals also have the benefit of experience. About half have worked in employee health for 10 or more years; 6% have been in employee health for more than 25 years. Two-thirds (68%) have worked in health care for more than 25 years.

"The economy may actually keep some of our older [employee health professionals] working longer than they wanted to," says Charlene M. Gliniecki, RN, MS, vice president, human resources, at El Camino Hospital in Mountainview, CA, and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

Job may appeal to older nurses

In fact, employee health offers a niche for experienced nurses who want to continue in nursing beyond the common retirement age. "If someone has been longtime at an organization and has moved into one of these roles, it can be very demanding emotionally and intellectually but it doesn't have the same physical demands [as bedside nursing]," says Gliniecki. "It is a little kinder to the older body. That is part of the draw and that can be a career path for nurses who want to continue to be involved in health care."

Be assertive about EH role

When budgets are tight, employee health professionals may not get the resources they need, in clerical support, FTEs, or even new equipment. That means it's more important than ever for employee health to partner with infection control, safety, and risk management, says MaryAnn Gruden, MSN, CRNP, NP-C, COHN-S/CM, employee health coordinator at Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh and association community liaison for AOHP.

"At hospitals where they are downsizing, right-sizing, and cutting costs, there are decisions made on products that affect employee health and infection control," she says. "You have to be assertive and say, 'You need our input when you make these decisions.'"

Hospitals are aware that they need employee health expertise to comply with U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulations, but employee health also can play a key role in managing workers' compensation costs and reducing injury rates, says Gruden.

The best evidence of that expertise: The COHN designation. In the HEH survey, 19% of respondents were certified occupational health nurses. "Organizations are starting to look to certification in occupational health as a job requirement," she says.

Forging a link

Employee health professionals also have been successful in linking their programs to the hospital's quality improvement efforts and specifically to patient safety. At Seattle Children's Hospital, employee health aligns its goals with those of the organization and works closely with infection control.

For example, the past flu vaccine campaign used the same messages for health care workers and patients, says Michelle Kom Gochnour, MN, RN, COHN-S, manager of occupational health services. "We found unique ways to market together and promote the same message," she says. "What staff hear about their own flu shots is similar to what they're telling patients and families."

Hand hygiene and safe patient handling are other areas that affect both worker safety and patient safety, Gochnour notes.

Gochnour is a part of the hospital's Joint Commission committee, which meets monthly. She also meets regularly with the safety director, serves on the executive safety committee, oversees the hospital's workers' compensation program, and reports to the vice president of human resources and meets with him twice a month.

If you're not a part of the key committees, you still should work on building the relationships and educating administration about the important role of employee health, she says. "It's our job to make the linkages," Gochnour says. "If you're not already at the table, find ways to get that information to those that are."

Conversely, if occupational health is viewed as a distinct entity without those tie-ins, it will lack power and support, she says. "[We need to] be seen as adding value - to quality, safety, efficiency of delivering of services to patients, cost savings, satisfaction to patients and family."

Is your compensation fair?

What about getting compensated for your value? For that you'll need some information on how your salary compares with others of your level and experience, in addition to data on how you have helped boost the bottom line, such as through injury reduction and improved return-to-work, says Gliniecki.

Human resources officers look at pay equity internally and externally, she says. To find out how you compare with other employees of a similar position in your hospital, you need to ask HR, she says.

"They have the same goal you have, to be fair," Gliniecki says. "You can work with them to identify other individuals in the organization who have similar competencies and qualifications. Look at the position and not the person. Certain people may have become more accomplished and gotten degrees, but that may not be required for the position."

Dare to compare

Outside the hospital, you want to compare yourself with occupational health professionals at other hospitals in your region. You may ask colleagues at the regional chapter of AOHP or the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN). You also could ask for information from an occupational nursing program at a university in your area.

Be careful to compare yourself with people who have similar job functions at hospitals. If someone manages workers' compensation, for example, and you do not, that could create a salary differential.

Most health care occupational health nurses are willing to share salary ranges with each other," Gliniecki says. "When you get comparables with your colleagues, without getting too detailed, you have to know what major areas of responsibility are or are not in that person's job."

If you are unhappy with your compensation and you can't get any satisfaction from your employer, you have one other option: Look elsewhere. Your experience and skills may be highly valued someplace else.

El Camino Hospital receives hundreds of applications for nursing positions, notes Gliniecki. "Our first choice is to get experienced people," she says.