HAILEY, Idaho — Hospitals throughout the country are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients as they experience a shortage of health care workers. However, lack of affordable housing is also an issue healthcare workers in the Wood River Valley face.
St. Luke's Health System is taking steps to provide affordable housing for healthcare workers. Just last week, St. Luke's Wood River broke ground on a new project that will bring affordable housing to a dozen healthcare workers.
"We get feedback that people who are being recruited to St. Luke's Wood River," said Erin Pfaeffle, the director of community health at St. Luke's Wood River. "Once they look at the current availability of affordable homes to rent and to own, and the cost of living in our community, it became very difficult for them to accept a position with us."
St. Luke's Wood River currently has 69 available positions, according to Pfaeffle. About one-third of them are nursing positions.
However, potential candidates are turning down the jobs due to the lack of affordable housing in the Ketchum area. Current employees are also feeling the strain, going to desperate lengths to have a roof over their heads.
"We have RV hookups in our parking lot and we absolutely have staff that are living in that parking lot so that they can continue working for us," Pfaeffle said. "[Some} have moved here working for us and have not been able to find an affordable home so they're living in there until they can find a solution."
As the cost of living continues to increase, some property owners in the Ketchum area are converting their monthly rental properties into seasonal vacation properties, which is limiting supply.
However, St. Luke's Wood River is working to provide a solution.
"If we start with income and let income drive the rest, we are able to ensure affordability for specific households," said Michelle Griffith, the executive director of the non-profit development organization Arch.
Arch has been developing homes in the Wood River Valley since 2009. When a project began that would benefit healthcare workers during the ongoing pandemic, the board voted unanimously to make land available for the program.
Healthcare workers who live in these houses will pay no more than 30% of their income on housing.
"The beauty of this program is that it's just us and the hospital," Griffith said. "The federal government isn't involved so we can do what we need to do to make sure these employees are well-looked after."
The funding for the project will come from St. Luke's Health System and the St. Luke's Wood River Foundation. Arch will develop four homes in three different locations, two in Hailey and one in Bellevue.
Arch has been saving money for years, according to Griffith, and the community and donors have been very generous to provide healthcare workers with affordable housing.
"It's been an issue for a long long time," Griffith said. "It's unfortunate that we are at a point where it's such an extraordinary crisis, but the good news is that a crisis brings people together and galvanizes the community."
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