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Porter Hospital boosts its hourly wage

This has been a source of embarrassment for me. We all know that $11 an hour is nowhere near a livable wage and I have not been proud to lead an organization that pays this way.
— Dr. Fred Kniffin

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College made a splash last month when it announced it had enacted base-wage increases affecting 6% of the institution’s Vermont workforce.
With a little less fanfare, another of the county’s other largest employers — Porter Medical Center — announced that it, too, had raised its hourly minimum wage, from $11 to $13. The raise took effect on Dec. 30.
“We have heard loud and clear from many employees that they support this move; and this is just the right thing to do,” PMC interim President Dr. Fred Kniffin stated in a recent email message to the hospital community. “It has been an important topic that we have been discussing behind the scenes for several months, and we are now finally in a financial position to be able to move forward.”
Porter Medical Center includes the hospital, Helen Porter Rehabilitation & Nursing, and around a dozen primary care and specialty care practices. PMC is affiliated with the University of Vermont Health Network, a six-hospital and home health & hospice system with more than 1,000 physicians, and 2,000 nurses and other clinicians in Vermont and northern New York.
Kniffin explained PMC has historically set its “organizational minimum wage” at roughly one dollar more than the state minimum wage, which on Jan. 1 increased by 18 cents to $10.96.
But Kniffin and other Porter Medical Center officials decided late last year that a bump of just $1 above the state’s minimum was not enough for PMC employees.
Current efforts are under way in the Vermont Legislature to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2024. Late last week the Legislature approved an increase in the Vermont minimum wage to $11.75 per hour starting in 2021; that bill is in the hands of Gov. Scott.
Porter currently employs around 800 full- and part-time workers.
“Frankly, this has been a source of embarrassment for me,” Kniffin said. “We all know that $11 an hour is nowhere near a livable wage and I have not been proud to lead an organization that pays this way. But, it’s hard work to figure out how to increase this rate and how we can afford it.”
He acknowledged companies must make more money each year in order to keep pace with the costs of doing business. Porter each year is faced with big decisions on how to use any money left over after it has met its expenses.
“There are many appropriate needs and options, including wages, equipment to care for our patients, our building — like the new ramp at our (front) entrance — or new programs like cardiac rehabilitation, ExpressCare and palliative care… Getting this balance right is one of the great challenges of leading an organization like Porter.”
He said PMC’s greatest asset is its employees.
“We need to invest in them, but we also have to be sure we provide our employees with the equipment and facilities they need to do their important work for our patients,” Kniffin said. “So I am very excited about this decision to make an investment in our people and I am hopeful this will help us recruit and retain good talent for our lower paying positions.”
Recruiting and retaining workers has become a big challenge for Vermont businesses and institutions of late. The unemployment rate for the state and here in Addison County is a modest 2.3%. The state’s population is stagnant and graying. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature continue to explore ways to attract young families and keep local high school and college students home after they graduate.
Meanwhile, Middlebury College’s increased its:
•  $11 per-hour hiring minimum by 27%, to $14.
•  $12.07 per-hour hiring minimum by 24%, to $15.
•  $15.22 per-hour hiring minimum by 5%, to $16.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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