McLaren Port Huron assists employees in times of trouble through COVID-19 Relief Fund

While there has been a shortage of supplies over the course of this COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been no shortage of good will for the frontline workers of the Blue Water Area.

Employees of McLaren Port Huron Hospital have been through a lot since the pandemic first took hold of the nation this past March. But it helps to know that the community hasn’t let their hard work go unnoticed.

"We’ve always known that the community is very supportive of the hospital and the people that work there. We received thousands of supplies, masks, hazmat suits, face shields, and boxes of food for our frontline workers. Pizzas have been delivered to every corner of the hospital," says Lynn Griffor, former Executive Director for the McLaren Port Huron Foundation.

Though Griffor left McLaren Port Huron earlier this summer, she was head of the Foundation for the first several months of the pandemic. Griffor is now the Executive Director of the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation.

"We’re in the middle of a crisis that can be scary and awful, but it helped the staff to know that people were thinking of them."

Homemade facemasks from Port Huron business Polka Dot PandasLocal businesses like Polka Dot Pandas rallied volunteers to hand-sew thousands of facemasks. Jeff Payton of the Vintage Tavern collected donations from customers, buying gift cards from local businesses to donate back to the hospital. And the hospital and its Foundation have done their parts, as well.

Soon after the pandemic reached crisis levels, the McLaren Port Huron Foundation began raising money for its employees through a COVID-19 Relief Fund. In just a few weeks, the Foundation was able to raise $50,000 for the fund thanks to donations from businesses and individuals alike.

"We’re very team-based and when you’re seeing people struggle, you want to reach out and help. It’s a very natural thing for us to do that," says Sara Tait.

Tait took over the role of Director of the McLaren Port Huron Foundation earlier this summer.

"Our donors are so generous to McLaren. We have a great relationship with them. We have such an amazing staff and the community recognizes this. They knew are staff maybe struggling and wanted to help.

"It’s a full circle-type situation. We had no idea how much we were going to raise, and it was shocking to us. It’s exciting to have that resource for our employees."

The COVID-19 Relief Fund was set up to provide financial assistance for employees of McLaren Port Huron Hospital. While it may seem counter-intuitive, the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on health care systems and their bottom-lines. That was especially true at the onset of the pandemic, when hospitals like McLaren halted non-emergency and elective procedures.

Whole sections of the hospital were shut down in order to focus on the COVID-19 outbreak and to limit risks of infection and further spreading the virus. As such, McLaren was forced to lay off and furlough some employees.

The COVID-19 Relief Fund is there to help, providing employees access to up to $1,500 in financial assistance.

"Due to COVID-19, I was furloughed from my job for almost 3 months. During the process, I struggled with getting the money from unemployment. During the time that I was not working, my bills started to pile up and I began to worry about how I was going to be able to manage paying them without my normal income," says an employee of McLaren Port Huron, who asked to remain anonymous.

"I am so thankful and blessed to work for a company that thinks about their employees and recognizes the impact that this pandemic would have on our personal lives, and that having a fund that we are able to request assistance from to remove the fear off my shoulders."

The COVID-19 Relief Fund is modeled after the foundation’s Employees That Care Club.

The COVID-19 Relief Fund is modeled after the Employees That Care ClubThe ETC Club has existed long before COVID-19 yet operates much in the same way. Employees of McLaren Port Huron can apply for assistance of up to $1,000 when faced with financial hardship. It’s meant to shield employees from events that could negatively impact their way of life or ability to work. An unforeseen car problem could affect an employee’s ability to get to their job, creating a "vicious cycle" of financial hardships. The ETC Club exists to stop that from happening.

Perhaps most remarkable about the ETC Club is that it’s not donor-funded but rather employee-funded. Workers opt into the program, personally donating a portion of their paychecks each pay period.

"Our employees are the backbone of the organization," Jennifer Montgomery, the now-former President & CEO of McLaren Port Huron, told The Keel before she left the organization earlier this summer.

"We have always had an employee assistance fund to assist employees who are undergoing financial hardships, but given the pandemic’s effect on so many factors, we knew it would be incredibly important to focus specifically on those impacted, whether economic or health-related."

The Foundation modeled its COVID-19 Relief Fund after the ETC Club to make it as easy as possible for employees to access the emergency funds. Employees apply for assistance and detail what the money would be used for, be it rent or bills or an emergency or otherwise. There is an anonymous drop-off box and the application process is kept confidential. Employees don’t have to be laid-off or furloughed, just able to demonstrate need.

The biggest difference between the two programs would be that one is employee-funded and the other is donor-funded. Other than that, the intent is shared: To make it as easy as possible for employees to access emergency financial assistance in times of trouble.

The $50,000 raised earlier this year should go a long way in helping McLaren Port Huron workers endure financial hardships for as long as the pandemic lasts. And that’s especially good news as it looks like the effects of COVID-19 could stick around awhile.

"That money will go a long way. It should help employees tremendously over the next year," Tait says.

"Just because people are back to work doesn’t mean that they’re not struggling financially.

"Hopefully this makes it a little easier for everyone to catch up on bills."

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