Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Most Palomar Health nurses could get up to $100,000 bonuses

Hospitals across the nation are experiencing shortages of health care workers, and nurses are among those in high demand. KPBS Health Reporter Matt Hoffman updates us on how one local hospital is using a big incentive to retain and hire new nurses.

A financial incentive for existing and new Palomar Health registered nurses is getting a lot of interest, according to hospital leadership.

Palomar Health introduced the $100,000 bonus in April — it requires a three-year, full-time employment commitment. Existing nurses and new hires are eligible for the incentive.

"Many of them thought it was too good to be true — but we wanted them to know, there’s no catch," said Palomar Health's CEO Diane Hansen. "We are very serious about this program and want them to know how much we want them to stay."


There is also a bonus for part-time nurses, but those are lower and depend on hours worked. Hansen said the incentive was introduced to move away from contract nurses, which have been expensive.

"We’re spending anywhere from $50 (million) to $60 million this year in contract labor," she said. "And so we wanted to take those dollars — if we can save some of that money — and put it toward that bonus program. That’s what we’re trying to do."

Palomar Health has around 1,800 total nurses. Not all of them work full time. If 1,000 nurses got the full bonus, it would cost the hospital $100 million dollars over three years. Nearly 85% of existing employees have signed on to receive the bonus, according to Melvin Russell, Palomar Health's chief nursing officer. He said it has also helped attract new applicants.

"Post-COVID we were really — as all health care agencies — we were really struggling on applicants," Russell said. "There was almost a standstill of months where we were not receiving applicants, and I know that’s not just this organization. Recently we’ve had an influx of applicants that we’re actually trying to keep up with."

The American Hospital Association reports an older health care workforce, a surge in retirements and pandemic burnout is driving a nationwide caregiver shortage.


A career fair was held at Palomar Health's Escondido hospital on Wednesday with a focus on nurses. Russell said the company has up to 250 open nursing positions. Some applicants were getting on-the-spot offers Wednesday. KPBS spoke to people who were very aware of the $100,000 bonus for full-time nurses.

"I definitely think it was the initial attention grabber," said Pamela Travis, a nurse from Temecula. "And then I think you always have to show up to facilities, see how the floors are run, talk to your managers."

The opportunity for existing staff to apply for the bonus ended late last month. New hires have until July 17 to apply for it.

"If you’re a full-time nurse and you’re working your full-time hours — you are absolutely going to get the full $100,000 over the course of three years," Hansen said.

The incentive is something catching the attention of nursing school students, like Daniel Courtney who attends Palomar College. He graduates in May and has been doing an apprenticeship program at Palomar Health.

"I just found out about this (bonus) a couple of days ago, and I didn’t know it was for the new-grad nurses," Courtney said while waiting to speak with a recruiter. "I was informed it is and that’s definitely super exciting."

A few miles away from Palomar's Escondido campus. a new Kaiser hospital is scheduled to open this summer in San Marcos. While some Palomar nurses may move there, Hansen said hiring competition with Kaiser did not inspire the $100,000 incentives.

"If anyone looked at the nationwide nursing-shortage you’ll understand why we’re doing this. We're doing this because we want to fill those traveler (contract) positions," Hansen said. "Kaiser is having the same challenges we are with filling their positions."

In March, Kaiser San Diego officials said they were impacted by recent trends in health care, but said their registered nurse vacancy-rate was below national benchmarks.

“The health care workforce has dramatically changed over the past three years resulting in staffing challenges seen nationwide,” said Jennifer Dailard, spokesperson for Kaiser. “Kaiser Permanente is not immune to this trend.”

Hansen said payments in the bonus program will be paid out yearly. Every July, a nurse would be paid amounts that increase over the course of three years. A full-time nurse is one who works at least 36-hours per week or six shifts a pay period, according to Palomar Health officials.

The North County Focus newsletter is your bi-weekly guide to all the news coming from North County, plus a handpicked selection of events and trivia tidbits.